Measure for Measure (2006)

*. Let’s put this up front: what we have here is a movie that might have cost a couple of hundred dollars (or pounds) to make and looks like it was shot on someone’s VHS camcorder. No one involved has a name you’re likely to have heard of. It also takes one of Shakespeare’s most complex plays and cuts and crams it into 80 minutes. So temper expectations.
*. We begin not in Vienna, where the play is set, but on an army base. Specifically, the home of the Blues and Royals, a prestigious cavalry regiment in the British Army. They are behaving very badly, and it’s clear that discipline has gone to the dogs with officers and enlisted men snogging and snorting coke at the pub and even the commanding officer sneaking off to the “loo” to bang one of his (female) squaddies. When he sees some soldiers burning a Union Jack though, he knows things have gone too far. Something has to be done!
*. Being an irresponsible lout himself, the commanding officer, corresponding to Duke Vicentio in the play, decides to go on leave and let his second-in-command Angelo whip the unit back into shape. This includes having any fornicators beheaded. From there, things go pretty much as in Shakespeare.

*. You’ll probably guess that adapting the play into such a modern setting is going to run into a lot of rough spots. It does, but I didn’t feel like it had to. Measure for Measure is in many ways a very modern play and I thought they might have played up those parts of it more. Meanwhile, given how much they were cutting, they might have left out things that didn’t translate as well. Like, for example, the chaplain. Religion is such an attenuated force in modern life why not make all the religious functionaries into government overseers?
*. As for the cuts, some are understandable. Escalus is gone. As are Elbow and Barnardine and Abhorson (comic relief characters who wouldn’t have worked well with the bleakness and nastiness of this film). As usual in most modern film productions, the longer speeches are broken up or reduced considerably. The Duke’s “Be absolute for death” speech is cut almost entirely, and what’s left is presented as Claudio taking a phone call from the Friar while in prison. Which is really taking the heart out of the play.
*. The military side of things doesn’t seem very realistic. The female soldiers wear heavy make-up and Angelo isn’t into shaving much. I even got a bit nit-picky about soldiers saluting without wearing military headdress (which is something you’re not supposed to do), but research revealed that the Blues and Greys are the only unit in the British Army that salutes without headdress because this is part of a regimental tradition. So I learned something. Though I don’t know if the filmmakers knew that.
*. The Duke’s disguise — a wig and dark glasses (which may be meant to imply that he’s blind) — looks comical. But I guess they didn’t have a lot of good props on base for him to use.
*. The military setting was an interesting idea, but at the end of the day I’m not sure it was a good one. Josephine Rogers (Isabella) and Daniel Roberts (Angelo) perform well enough to get a shout out. The ending and the always complicated choice of how to play Isabella’s response to the Duke’s proposal fits with the rest of the grimness on display. The overall effect though is of a student production where they were just trying to do their best with what they had to work with, which wasn’t much.

15 thoughts on “Measure for Measure (2006)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      They did try, and it’s got a couple of nice points.

      Wasn’t that From the Hip movie yesterday? I’m sure he’s around. He wouldn’t go anywhere without us!

      1. Fraggle

        Well I could not find it. I am looking for today’s post now. Which is actually yesterday’s post looking at the time.

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