Full of classic Shakespeare plotting elements, an updated version of Measure for Measure moves smoothly into modern-day Australia.
Though listed as a comedy in Shakespeare’s 1623 Folio, Measure for Measure looks at such weighty issues as corruption and justice. Switching the play’s original Vienna setting to Melbourne, film director Paul Ireland lets the play’s strong plotting and characters make their original serious points along with adding insights about current racial and economic tensions.
His choice of music initially indicates a lighthearted tone, but events get darker as power plays erupt. Like many of Shakespeare's works, the story involves love at first sight plus inaccurately delivered messages and deception as a neighborhood leader—called Duke in both play and film—seemingly leaves his community but secretly watches over everything.
The character Duke gives Hugo Weaving a starring role, one the actor from The Matrix and Lord of the Rings movies handles with expected aplomb. Weaving’s resonant voice suits Shakespearean gravitas—even though the screenplay uses current, regional dialect.
While Ireland and co-screenwriter Damien Hill sometimes slip in lines that sound elegantly styled to Shakespeare, they avoid a literal adaptation and feel free to either add or jettison parts of the plot. The result works well as a story with substance and relevance, bringing in specifics to Melbourne’s housing and immigrant issues while telling a tale involving the beauty of young love.
Though I sometimes find the various young lovers in Shakespeare’s plays among the dullest and most insipid of his characters, the couple in Measure for Measure prove appealing and sympathetic. Played by Harrison Gilbertson and Megan Smart, the two performers show genuine rapport and innocence, making the movie more heartrending.
By all measures, this Measure for Measure totals up into an absorbing cinematic experience.
Measure for Measure opens in select theaters and on streaming services this week.
Robin Holabird is a former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office and a longtime KUNR entertainment reviewer. Catch her commentary Fridays during Fresh Air, between 2:37 and 2:47 p.m.