Thursday, June 15, 2017

Love is a Many Splendored, Forsaken Kind of Thing in 'Still Star-Crossed' (Spoiler Alert)

Ah, a television series period romance with brown bodies in it. If you, like me, watched because of the utterly romantic promo, you were sadly misled by a few things....
Although based on Melinda Taub's book, on the silver screen Still Star Crossed is the delicious allegory of a juicy, guilty pleasure Beverly Jenkins coming to the world of medieval Shakespearean delight. It's a plus that the nighttime bodice ripper features a diverse cast not treated like tokens. 

A shamelessly beautiful, flawless example of a Beverly Jenkins if you didn't know what a Beverly Jenkins historical fiction novel looks like.
It starts off with what we know: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet secretly marry with Juliet's cousin Rosaline Capulet and Romeo's cousin Benvolio Montague acting as witnesses and then they die, committing suicide together. Simultaneously, Escalus's father has just passed away and he is crowned prince of Verona.

To set the tragedy to right, Prince Escalus believes that the joining of Rosaline and Benvolio will strengthen Verona and perhaps bring an end to the ancient rivalry. 

This means exactly what it means. And yes, I am withholding sobs and clutching my chest.
However, Rosaline and Escalus share a history hinted in a few flashbacks and their current eye affair. They too have "Romeo and Juliet" moments, with Escalus visiting Rosaline's balcony on a midsummer night, wooing her with flowery words and sincere promises. The actors certainly have the forbidden staring down pact, for brown eyes meeting brown eyes are filled with tenderness, longing, agony, and love. One wishes that they didn't know the outcome, but alas, find these poignant long looks and stolen sultry kisses worthy treasures. Their chemistry is like an ignited match, burning the small screen with its tendril flames. They have both innocence and passion. I believed that Escalus loved Rosaline before he even said the words in episode two. The way he gazes upon her, the way he touches her face, the tentative way he kisses her are the markings of a man consumed by the heart. Rosaline conveys her love with a response that is anything but submissive.

Lord Silvestro Capulet (Anthony Stewart Head aka forever Rupert Giles) with his niece Rosaline Capulet (Lashana Lynch).
From the sounds of the narrative thus far, Escalus and Rosaline were dearest friends that became more. Escalus's father had disapproved of the burgeoning relationship, wanting his son far away from the feud, believing his ardor chooses one side over another. Royalty simply cannot be involved with the notion of loving a Capulet or vice versa.

The Montagues are responsible for the death of Rosaline and Livea's father. Naturally, Rosaline hates them. Her uncle, Silvestro Capulet, however, doesn't care and believes that her fate will save the family's misfortune. He even moves her from the servants' quarters to Juliet's bedroom much to the horror of his wife, Lady Guiliana. She truly despises Rosaline.

Little sister, Isabella (Madalion Rahimi) is the sly serpent whispering evil nothings into Escalus's (Sterling Sulieman) ears.
While Prince Escalus struggles between right and wrong, his sister, Princess Isabella seems to add gorgeous accessory of poise and prowess to every scene she's in. At every turn, she is egging on Escalus's bad side, slowly poisoning his compassionate nature. She feels that they must abide by horrific laws. She must have an agenda. Hopefully, there is more story to tell about her soon and that writers don't wait and lose momentum. 

Sisters Rosaline (Lashana Lynch) and Livea (Ebonee Noel) Capulet have different goals in this period life.

There is no Bechdel pass yet. Unless one counts the many times Lady Guilana has threatened Rosaline's life. Or the small scene when Princess Isabella admits to missing Rosaline's companionship. 

In regards to other family matters, the ebony Capulet sisters don’t have conversations surpassing the subject of men. Although at the time, marriage was profitable for women, especially women of color flying in higher circles, it would have been nice to see them talk beyond that. Livea is obsessed with getting hitched and would rather have a husband than flee the countryside with her sister. She is after all, the obedient, docile sister, comfortable in her lowly place. Rosaline is a daringly defiant spirit, seemingly wanting pious, independent nunnery life, showing that rare combination of black woman innocence and dignity. However, different Livea and Rosaline are, there should have had been small scenes of them preparing for the big ball, telling each other that they’re beautiful, and braiding each other’s hair. I wanted desperately for something that showcased pivotal emotional bond between sisters. It was wonderful that instead of staying safe with Escalus during the point of danger, Rosaline instead decides to find Livea to ensure that she was safe and sound.

In a man's world, Rosaline (Lasana Lynch) is a woman determined to take charge of her own destiny.
In the vein of strong black women leads, welcome Lynch to where powerhouses Kerry Washington and Viola Davis are breaking barriers-- Shondaland. She is a radiant gem, bringing forth a noble, brazen character with intellect, determination, and vulnerability. Whether Still Star Crossed returns for a second season or not, the future has to be promising for an actress with a commanding presence, rich depth, and a supreme beauty that desperately needs to be seen. 

It is wonderful seeing Rosaline (Lashana Lynch with Sterling Sulieman) outside of her servant uniform. She looked like Princess Tiana with her Prince Naveen beside her. Oh, the endless Disney princess dreams....
As for romance, Rosaline and Escalus were good while they lasted. For two episodes at least.

Okay, good is the operative word.

Escalus left town without telling her. Sure, his father controlled most of this horrendous situation, forcing him to leave, waiting carriage and all. However, during Escalus's time away, he didn't write Rosaline a single letter. That's pretty damn awful. Surely, he could have given her word somehow. He returns back to Verona and is taking control of her life, a woman he claims to love. He would risk and damage it all for the kingdom. There must be some other way to end a feud rather than forsake a person, tie them down into an unwanted marriage. Lastly, the most terrible act, Escalus confesses his love and wants to tell the world the next morning. After a disgusting travesty occurs and is discovered, he uses their one night of intimacy (not sexual intimacy, something deeper, something profound) against Rosaline. He casually threatens her with a sullied reputation if she doesn't go through with marrying the enemy. The romance went to the grave right then and there.

As the prince's character darkens, the tide will turn to Rosaline and Benvolio while secretive Livea might have a blossoming relationship with Paris, formerly Juliet's betrothed, the man Romeo stabbed before dying.

Yet this chemistry between Rosaline and her prince, this tantalizing short-lived taboo, was a precious sentiment to some of us desiring black love to prevail.

Distant lovers for now and ever.

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