Film Review – Measure for Measure (1979)

Measure for Measure Poster

For a comedy that isn’t very funny, this film is actually pretty decent. Although given the costuming, the movie should really be about hats. I kid you not, everyone has a really epic hat from the Duke to Angelo to Lucio. And depending on whether you consider the veil of a novitiate’s habit to be a hat, Isabella has one too.

Costumes for this one are pretty decent. The men all wear clothes that vary on Governor Ratcliffe from the Disney version of Pocahontas, with the splashiest outfits going to the Duke and Lucio. The actress playing Isabella wears a novitiate’s habit for the entire film (apparently only in Sound of Music do novitiates get to wear clothes made from curtains). I’d pity her but it actually looks pretty comfortable and she gets to wear flip flops. So yes, the film is totally about the awesome hats. And maybe a little bit about the many different options for facial hair.

The Duke

My hat is so awesome I must be the Duke.

Actually the acting in this one is surprisingly good compared with some of the other films in the Complete Works of Shakespeare series. The actor playing Angelo is impressively conflicted in his soliloquies about his sudden attraction to Isabella. The director also makes the intriguing decision to have Angelo address part of his soliloquy to himself in a mirror which actually works very well. Similarly, the actor playing Claudio, who impressively manages to have stubble while in prison and then have none when the bag is pulled off his head at the end, really exercises his emotional range. In the scene where Isabella tells him about Angelo’s demand for her body to spare her brother, he goes from moral outrage and a desire to protect his sister’s honour to a genuine fear of death in a way that makes him almost sympathetic to the audience. The change is not lightning fast but rather a slow evolution that the actor does exceedingly well.

What made me happiest, however, was at the end of the film when the Duke out of the blue tells Isabella he wants her to be his wife. At the first statement, her expression doesn’t change from the default one she’s had for most of the film. At the very end, when he offers her his hand there is a very long pause in which she simply looks at him and lets his hand hang there. For a moment I was very excited and hoped that the director may have decided to interpret the text differently and leave the possible marriage between Isabella and the Duke as ambiguous but he isn’t quite that risque. After the long moment (in which I desperately wish one of the people in the crowd could have said, “Awkward”), Isabella smiles and takes his hand, and the entire main cast walks out in a procession. For those of you keeping track, out of the 5 film adaptations watched so far, 100% have ended with a procession.

The Duke and Isabella

Awkward pause. And feminists rejoice.

There endeth the review. On Sunday I move on to another of my favourite comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.

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