Retro Review: Measure for Measure (1979)
A nun to be, Isabella, is asked to plea for her brother’s life after he’s sentenced to death for getting his girl pregnant before marrying her. The Duke, who usually deals with these matters, (and is not very strict) has gone away and left the noble Angelo in charge, who is determined to clean the streets of Vienna. Angelo, however, falls for the fair Isabella and asks her to give up her virginity to save her brother’s life. Along with a friar, who’s actually the Duke in disguise, she plots a way to beat the hypocrite Angelo and save her brother without soiling her own name.
The issues of Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, are very interesting. He seems to argue on behalf of free love or at least against the laws that seek to punish those who love freely. In fact, one can’t help but wonder if the poet resented the law with all. If Angelo, the face of the law, cannot even abide them, why then and how can the average citizen uphold them?
The plot is very clever and filled with twists and turns to keep things interesting. The subplot serves as a further scrutiny of the law, where a pimp becomes the executioner responsible for the lives of the fornicators. At times this subplot feels like a distraction, though, and the untangling of the twists drags on a bit.
The production is simple but effective and the cast does well. As with other BBC productions the text is as clear as day though some actors fall into the trap of “acting” the text rather than saying it (we’re looking at you Tim Pigott-Smith). That gives the film a feel of being directed by a theatre director, though visually the film does not feel like a staged play. The productions biggest flaw is that though Kenneth Colley plays the Duke rather well one doesn’t get to clearly understand his motivations for setting all this in motion.
Final Verdict: As neither comedy nor tragedy, Measure for Measure is simply a lesson in how lust rules man’s actions, without any condemnation on the playwright’s part. A political piece if you will, is mostly well acted and executed in this BBC production. However, clearing up characters’ motivations would help the audience through the many twists and turns within the plot.