The river path is bustling with activity this afternoon. Geese honk, narrowboaters tend wood fires, and in a car park that borders the water a man stands alone striking golf balls into a bucket. Buckley, dressed in torn jeans and a tightly fitted beret, stomping through puddles in her felty shoes, fits in well with the general chaos and eccentricity of the scene. At one point she falls into conversation with a bearded older man in a T-shirt who staggers by, recognises her County Kerry accent, and wonders (of the beret) why anybody from that lovely part of Ireland would want to “masquerade as a Frenchwoman”. Buckley hoots with laughter. The pair of them wind up exchanging endearments in Irish.
Listening to her chat, I realise that it’s possible to have watched through many hours of Buckley’s consistent and excellent acting work without having met this true Irish persona at all. She played a Glaswegian in her breakthrough film, Wild Rose, in 2018. Afterwards she went gravelly, English and posh in 2019’s Judy. That year she was allowed to do a generalised Irish brogue in the ensemble drama Chernobyl, but her two biggest roles from 2020 (in the TV drama Fargo, and in Charlie Kaufmann’s movie I’m Thinking Of Ending Things) required she go American. Happily, in Buckley’s next bit of work, a filmed version of Romeo & Juliet that was produced by the National Theatre and will soon broadcast on Sky, we get something close to the realer thing – a Kerry-accented Juliet, vital and quirky as Buckley herself, and perfect foil to the English actor Josh O’Connor as a hunched, repressed Romeo.
Josh O’Connor, who plays Prince Charles in season 4 of Netflix’s “The Crown,” and BAFTA winner Jessie Buckley (“Wild Rose,” “Chernobyl”) are set to star as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in “Romeo & Juliet,” a made-for-television production by the U.K.’s National Theatre.
“Romeo & Juliet” was originally scheduled to play this summer to theater audiences, but was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now re-conceived for the screen, this new 90-minute version will be shot over three weeks in the National Theatre’s Lyttelton theater, which will be temporarily transformed into a studio.
Rehearsals will begin in November and filming in December. The production will bow on PBS in the U.S. and on Sky Arts in the U.K. in 2021.
While the National Theatre has broadcast stage productions to cinemas for over a decade through its popular National Theatre Live program, this will be the first time an original production for screen has been created in its London headquarters.
The production will be directed by National Theatre associate Simon Godwin (“Antony and Cleopatra”) and adapted for screen by Emily Burns. The cast also includes Fisayo Akinade (“The Antipodes”), Deborah Findlay (“Coriolanus”), Tamsin Greig (“Twelfth Night”), Lucian Msamati (“His Dark Materials”) and Shubham Saraf (“A Suitable Boy”).
Rufus Norris, director and joint chief executive of the National Theatre, said: “I wanted to find a way to use that space to create something exciting and special for audiences, that utilized the exceptional skill and craft of the National Theatre’s teams, freelancers and creative associates, and that could reach as many people as we can. That’s all going to be possible with this brilliant film of ‘Romeo & Juliet.’”
Godwin said: “I think it’s a genius idea and I’m honored to be able to create the first film. I think I speak for myself, the creative team and the cast when I say how delighted we are to be focusing all our creativity into this version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ once more. Some ideas are staying, lots of new ones are coming in — I’m very excited about this new genre, combining film and theater, and bringing together the remarkable talents of those industries.”
“Romeo & Juliet” is produced by David Sabel, who created the National Theater Live program, at Sabel Productions. Executive producers are Dixie Linder, Cuba Pictures (“McMafia”), David Horn, Great Performances, Christine Schwarzman and Darren Johnston, No Guarantees, and Philip Edgar Jones for Sky Arts.