Rosaline review: Kaitlyn Dever’s breezy, clever rewrite of Romeo & Juliet

Admit it, you love a bit of revisionist Shakespeare.

The bard’s famous tales have inspired so many unfaithful adaptations, from The Lion King to 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s always a curiosity to see what an imaginative filmmaker can do with ol’ Will’s words.

And when Baz Luhrmann has defined what a contemporary version of Romeo & Juliet looks like, while Franco Zeffirelli staked the claim on a traditional adaptation, it’s a bold move for another storyteller to attempt the same.

So, instead of doing exactly that, director Karen Maine and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber sidestepped the challenge and lasered in on the play’s least-explored character: the unseen Rosaline.

If you’re familiar with Romeo & Juliet, you’ll know Rosaline as the Capulet cousin who had captured Romeo’s heart but her supposed non-reciprocation sent him into a depressive spin. It’s she Romeo was to see at the Capulet ball when he spies Juliet instead.

Rosaline may be a footnote in the story of Romeo & Juliet but here, she’s given star billing, and with the irrepressibly charismatic Kaitlyn Dever in her fancy shoes.

Unlike Mercutio’s descriptor of Rosaline as a “hard-hearted wench”, this Rosaline is a warm, witty and lovestruck young woman. She’s smitten with Romeo, who sneaks onto her balcony for illicit kisses. Only her nurse (Minnie Driver) and her friend Paris (Spencer Stevenson) knows her secret.

As a Capulet, she cannot be seen consorting with a Montague, and her father (Bradley Whitford) is busy trying to arrange her marriage.

It’s during one of these matchmaking sessions that she’s waylaid and late to the Capulet masquerade ball, not only missing out on the dances she promised Romeo but she also wasn’t there to stop his fateful meeting with Juliet.

Rosaline is heartbroken when she realises her beau has fallen for another, and plots to win him back from her guileless young cousin.

As a concept, Rosaline and her role as a meddler in the grand romance of Romeo & Juliet is a fun idea – she’s to Romeo & Juliet what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to Hamlet.

There’s a lot of joy in seeing the story from the perspective of a side character, especially one who is only briefly spoken about and never seen in Shakespeare’s original play.

Rosaline plays up the farce and comedy and despite its period setting, it feels fresh. It quickly – and cleverly – explains away why the dialogue is not Elizabethan and the fact that characters are speaking with different accents doesn’t even grate.

It has a contemporary vibe and because it pulls it off in a way that the recent doomed adaptation of Persuasion did not, you forgive a lot.

Rosaline is a breezy movie that charms in large part because Dever is such a talent. Her magnetism allows her to turn Rosaline’s scheming into something endearing – and that’s not easy considering she spends the bulk of the movie trying to break up one of the most enduring romances of all time.

Rating: 3/5

Rosaline is streaming now on Disney+

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