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Hollywood brings the Bard to life

Leonardo DiCaprio, the heart-throb with straw-blond hair, and a smile described as an "ingratiating proposition", stars in Titanic, but has a much greater achievement to his credit - he has inspired thousands of teenagers to love Shakespeare, writes Ngaio Crequer.

Leo, as he is known to fans, became famous when he climbed up to the balcony in Romeo and Juliet. The film, directed by Baz Luhrmann, a teacher, keeps Shakespeare's words, but the Montagues and Capulets are mafia-style gangs, it takes place in a Latin American 'Verona Beach' and there is a thumping soundtrack. There are some unusual innovations - Juliet pops down from the balcony in the lift - but overall the film keeps faith with the play.

The film, which grossed Pounds 18 million in the UK, is being credited with the huge improvement in 14-year-olds' performance in Shakespeare tests. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said this week that 62 per cent of 14-year-olds studied Romeo and Juliet.

Film Education, a charity which provides resources to teachers, sent 12, 000 study guides to schools to coincide with the film's release. Mr Luhrmann has been to schools himself to talk about Shakespeare and the play. The British Film Institute says evidence suggests the film has made the play much more accessible to young people.

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