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As Measure for Measure is the first of a series of BBC Shakespearean adaptations I have seen, my judgment on the quality of this particular film is not necessarily a judgment on the quality of all of such BBC adaptations.
Having clarified that, it's actually quite decent. A great misconception of Shakespearean plays is that the words are so archaic that one must play his or her role melodramatically. The term Shakespearean has even become synonymous with melodramatic, for both literary and theatrical artists. However, even this admittedly random, but well-made TV film shows that you can easily make these ancient characters come alive as fellow humans, just as in modern screenwriting. After all, shows like Game of Thrones hark back to elements of the older language. Does that stop you from attentively watching every episode? I would hope not.
The Duke of Vienna, loved by his common people for his merciful and loving nature, has sensed there is some mistrust within his council. Does the Duke have no guts? To overcome this notion, he has told the council he will be on leave for an undefined duration, leaving Angelo, a strictly-by-the-law deputy, in charge of all matters, with assistance from lord Escalus. In the meantime, the Duke disguises himself as a friar, as he spies on the affairs that quickly come about under Angelo's rule. One issue in particular is of a fornication occurring between Claudio and Juliet, lovers who did not complete the marital process, yet she bears his child. For this, Claudio is arrested and to be executed. As the friar, the Duke then sets to solve these matters through whatever means necessary, from a switch in bed to a switch in heads.
Near the two-and-a-half hour mark, the play itself makes good use of its time as an oddball tale of determining who has to pay the price for the various crimes and acts committed. The transition from stage to film works as well as you may expect. For its budget, director Desmond Davis (best known as the director of the cheesy 1981 version of Clash of the Titans) does what he can, polishing some scenes with cinematic grace, while other scenes play out like a Black Adder episode. For example, the Duke, as the friar, exposes his distinguishable face to almost every character of importance, save Angelo and Escalus. The change in disguise, for the most part, is a change in hats. Not quite as bad as Superman disguising himself as Clark Kent with glasses, but it is distracting. By the way, Clark Kent is Superman.
The acting was what sealed my opinion on the film. Though a few actors were there to chew the scenery, most of the cast members were astonishingly fun to watch. One standout was Kenneth Colley as the rogue Duke, who, while disguised as a friar, gave a near trademark smirk to every mention of the Duke's name. It was no break of the fourth wall, but rather a subtle touch of humanity in the character of the Duke. Another standout was John McEnery as Lucio, a dastardly two-face who helps the cause of Claudio's life, but not without throwing verbal fire at the Duke, while talking with the friar. While hammy, he brought to life classic retorts and insults that Shakespeare loved oh so much. Incidentally, McEnery also played Mercutio in the definitive 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Which is a Shakespeare play. Yeah.
If you want to watch a film adaptation of Measure for Measure, this is probably your best bet. The only other one I found was a low-budget modern adaptation that, in the first five minutes, depicts the Duke snorting cocaine and making out with a whore in a bathroom. Please, go with the BBC version. As for the casual film viewer, if you pay good attention to the dialogue, you will clearly understand what is happening in the story. With reinforcement from the director and actors, the play is depicted full-heartedly and respectably.
Definitely one of the stronger BBC productions. Kenneth Colley is excellent as Vincentio, and Shakespeare's strong women are done great justice here, particularly in the case of Kate Nelligan as Isabella. <p> Shakespeare's women are astonishing, one play after another. I wonder if he ever was frustrated by the fact that only men -- not even men -- boys were required to play all the female parts in his day. I mean, you're depending on adolescent boys to pull off the likes of Juliet, or Ophelia, or Lady Macbeth, or Isabella in this play. I bet you're praying for male child prodigy actors with some heavily mature talent to come along at every turn. I can't but believe, that in his heart, Shakespeare must have longed for allowance to employ talented female actors to perform his choicest female leads.