Measure for Measure
by Cat McAlpine
In this modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by the same name, Measure for Measure follows a large cast of characters all tied to the same horrific event. A man high on meth goes on a racially charged shooting spree in a housing commission tower. Angelo sold him the drugs. Farouk might have sold him the gun. Claudio and Jaiwara were simply lucky enough to survive. What really connects the tenants of the dreary flats is not a single act violence, but the fact that their lives are rife with it.
Director Paul Ireland uses trauma as connective tissue, highlighting the theme with repeated showings of August Friedrich Schenck’s “Anguish.” The painting shows a ewe crying out over the body of her dead lamb, encircled by waiting crows. It is trauma, and vulnerability, like this that pushes characters together and rips them apart, with carrion birds waiting to swoop in.
The script, penned by Ireland and Damian Hill (to whom the film is dedicated), is strongest when it strays from Shakespeare. The addition of an immigrant family to the story adds dimension to the types of trauma we face and how it shapes the next generation. The love story of Ireland and Hill’s Measure for Measure is much more straightforward than Shakespeare’s. If anything, the film would’ve improved from even further deviation.
What truly carries the production are its strong performances. Hugo Weaving is great as Duke, endlessly watchable. His manic foil Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) is also fantastic, even when the script doesn’t support him. Farouk (Fayssal Bazzi) starts as a stereotypical baddie, but Bazzi finds complicated depth in him later on. Harrison Gilbertson and Megan Smart build great chemistry together as Claudio and Jaiwara, despite a bit of a montaged love story at the start.
Measure for Measure is a worthy effort to take the endlessly classic nature of Shakespeare and frame it in a modern retelling with new resonance. Its focus on loss, vengeance, and love are undeniably relatable, while still telling a fresh story in an old frame.