I just want to start off with a confession: my review is going to be seriously biased. I’ve been excited about ABC’s Still Star-Crossed ever since the casting was announced about a year ago. A diverse cast on a historical drama is rare, which is what got me interested originally. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited about a show. I suspect I’d probably end up liking it even if it was terrible. Luckily, so far it isn’t. Minor spoilers ahead.
Based on the young adult novel by Melinda Taub, Still Star-Crossed is a continuation of the Romeo and Juliet story. After the deaths of Romeo (Lucien Laviscount) and Juliet (Clara Rugaard), Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch), Juliet’s cousin, becomes the heir of the Capulet family. With Romeo dead, Benvolio Montague (Wade Briggs) is the last hope of the Montagues. But the two feuding families refuse to stop fighting and a riot breaks out in the city of Verona. To find a way to bring peace and keep the city united against outside invaders, Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman) decides to end the feud by forcing the two families together. Prince Escalus sees no choice but to force Rosaline and Benvolio into an arranged marriage that neither wants.
Many of the characters in Still-Star Crossed were marginal figures in Shakespeare’s original play but they get far bigger roles here. Side characters in Shakespeare’s plays are often three-dimensional despite not being lead characters. Which makes the characters on the show so intriguing – it’s great to see side characters everyone is familiar with get their own story.
The lead of the show is Rosaline Capulet, the orphaned daughter of nobles who starts off as a servant in her uncle Lord Capulet’s home. But despite growing up with Juliet, Rosaline is nothing like her cousin. She isn’t a dreamer. She doesn’t have her head in the clouds. All she wants to do is to join the nuns. Rosaline is skeptical of a marriage to a wealthy or noble husband because she has no desire to go back to her old life as a noblewoman. She refuses to be at the mercy of men and she defies anyone who wishes to put her in her place or marry her off. Lashana Lynch plays Rosaline beautifully. Rosaline starts off being on the periphery of Verona’s political intrigue but through Lynch you get the sense that she’s gutsy enough to stand up for herself and savvy enough to understand the system she’s being forced into. Watching a character as practical as Rosaline get thrust into a love triangle is what makes the romance so much fun to watch. I don’t usually like love triangles but I kind of ship Rosaline with both of the men she’s paired with – Prince Escalus, the man she loved but cannot have, and Benvolio, the man she despises but has to marry.
I’ve been interested in Rosaline and the show in general for so long because there aren’t many black women leads in period dramas. Which is one of the reasons Still Star-Crossed worked for me. The cast is ethnically diverse and the diversity is incorporated wonderfully. There characters in each family are different ethnicities. For example, the royal siblings Princess Isabella (Medalion Rahimi) and Prince Escalus are played by an Iranian American actress and an African American actor respectively. The casting gives the show a timelessness and a fairy-tale quality all at once.
Still Star-Crossed is gorgeous – the show is a feast for the eyes. Most of the show was shot on location in Spain in medieval castles. The locations give the show an epic feel. I’m used to watching all the drama of Shondaland shows, but the palace intrigue of Still Star-Crossed is even more heightened. The stakes are so much bigger. If the families don’t stop feuding, Verona will be invaded and torn apart. The lavish interiors and exteriors of the castles drive this point home. Verona stands to lose its wealth and beauty. The costumes are beautiful and you can see the attention to detail. Princess Isabella has the most exquisite costumes on the show. They look Elizabethan and she’s bejeweled, dressed in fine silks. Meanwhile, Rosaline’s costumes look more like they belong in the Italian 15th century. Still Star-Crossed is set sometime in the Renaissance but isn’t set in a specific year. The costumes don’t evoke a specific year or even decade which adds even more to the show’s fairy tale quality.
Some of the issues for Still Star-Crossed come down to show expectations. With all its palace intrigue the show has a very soapy feel. It’s meant for a younger audience and it doesn’t apologize for this. The dialogue has been modernized to make it more accessible. This isn’t really a criticism of the show, just a point about expectations. If you like shows like The Tudors or The Borgias then Still Star-Crossed has a good chance of being your catnip. If you hated those shows Still Star-Crossed probably won’t be our cup of tea. And the show doesn’t try to be anything than what it is: fun, soapy, packed full of family drama, romance, and twists.
As an aside, the show also gets bonus points for including Shazad Latif in the pilot. I had been wondering when I’d see him in something else again, so I got super excited that he was on another historical show even if the role was small. I’ve only seen the pilot so I have no idea how the rest of the season will go. But so far, I had a lot of fun watching, and I’m looking forward to more. I’d give this one a B+.