Shakespeare Plays : Measure for Measure (1979)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Political Satire, Tragi-comedy  |   Run Time - 180 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |  
  • AllMovie Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Share on

Review by

Although Measure for Measure is not among Shakespeare's more popular plays, it is nonetheless intriguing because the key characters exhibit competing positive and negative qualities. For example, Isabella (Kate Nelligan) is virtuous and beautiful on the one hand, but cold and detached on the other. And the Duke of Vienna (Kenneth Colley) is weak by his own admission, but he is also wise in the way that he resolves the conflicts at the end. Then there is Angelo (Tim Piggot-Smith), presented at first as a righteous man the duke can trust, he goes too far when he condemns Claudio (Christopher Strauli) to death for fornication. What's more, he succumbs to an overpowering desire for Isabella and sexually harasses her. Each of these characters is well-drawn in this 1978 BBC adaptation of the play directed by Desmond Davis. As Isabella, Nelligan is lovely and saintly, but she is also rigid and humorless -- just what Shakespeare had in mind. Colley and Piggot-Smith also perform brilliantly as they expose their characters to audience scrutiny. In a minor supporting role, Frank Middlemass is hilarious as Pompey, a servant of Mistress Overdone (Adrienne Corri), a bawd. His rough-hewn character and lower-class accent season the drama with a touch of farce to offset the deadly serious demeanor of Angelo and Isabella. Also, although the production has the look and feel of a stage drama, the camera does break free of the theater and moves to different locales -- the interior of a boisterous brothel, for example, as well as the interior of a convent -- to enhance realism. Director Davis gives the audience almost all of the play as written, including brilliant lines like "Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt" from act one, scene four. One passage, recited by Nelligan, sums up one of the major themes of the play -- male domination of women: "O! It is excellent to have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant." Although Measure for Measure may not rank with the great Shakespeare plays, it is still a good play. And this BBC production -- complete with authentic period costumes -- does it full justice.