Romeo & Juliet seems to be a story that appeals to gay sensibilities, as it’s been referenced in all manner of gay books and movies. Romeu & Romeu is far from the first time the whole play has been given a same sex twist. For example, 2011’s Private Romeo kept Shakespeare’s dialogue but set the story between two male cadets at an American military school.
Romeu & Romeu is a Brazilian web series take of the Bard’s classic, with the Capulets and Montagues becoming the Monteiros and Campelos, and Verona moving from Italy to somewhere outside Sao Paulo. Ever since homophobic violence back in the 1960s, the families have been sworn enemies, trapped in a constant cycle of eye-for-an-eye anger and violence.
As you may have already guessed, a member of the Monteiro family falls in love with one of the Campelo’s, but instead of Romeu and Juliet it’s Ramon and Rômulo. They know their relationship won’t be accepted by either family, so they vow to keep it secret, but as the familial antagonism grows around them, things become increasingly dangerous for everyone involved.
It’s not just the names and genders that have been changed, as various other details of Shakespeare’s original have been altered too. That’s probably for the best, although it does mean that the 10-part show ends up having more in common with a melodramatic telenovela than it does a Shakespearean production. In fact, it gets so overwrought at times that you’re as likely to giggle at it as to be emotionally moved.
One of the reasons Romeo & Juliet has been popular with gay people is that the idea of a love that must be kept secret certainly has echoes of romance in the closet. However, more reductively, Romeo & Juliet also fits into old-fashioned tropes of gay people being inherently tragic (something that many gay people bought into themselves in the past). Thankfully, Romeu & Romeu doesn’t feel the need to stick with the full tragedy of death and destruction that closes Shakespeare’s play, instead knowing that in the modern day, something a bit different and more hopefuly is called for.
While fun and told with real enthusiasm, Romeu & Romeu is far from perfect though. With 10 episodes that are 20+ minutes each, it sometimes feels like it’s dragging things out far more than it needs to. It was also made on a minuscule budget, which results in some technical issues that cause rather distracting audio problems. Thankfully these are intermittent and lessen considerably as the series goes on.
For many it will also be difficult to justify the fact that the UK DVD release has been split in two, with Part 1 releases in November 2017 and Part 2 coming January 2018. As it’s really just one series, splitting it into two releases feels a little like an unnecessary money-grab, even if the complete running time is over three hours.
Thankfully though, while Romeu & Romeu is imperfect, it is pretty entertaining and occasionally fairly sweet and sexy. Indeed, the show is at its best when exploring the romance Ramon and Rômulo, not least because its only elsewhere that things get a little histrionic. It’s that core of love that ensures it’s more watchable than it might otherwise have been.
Overall Verdict: Although a single release of the whole show in one go would have been better, Romeu & Romeu is a fairly entertaining gay take on Shakespeare’s classic. It may not be perfect, but it’s surprisingly entertaining.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac