THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
God’s Mercy Is Part of God’s Law
Release Date: December 29, 2004
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Rating: Not Rated Yet
Runtime: 131 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Address Comments To:Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcie Bloom
Sony Pictures Classics
550 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Phone: (212) 833-8833
Web Page: http://www.sonyclassics.com
The story takes place in 1596 Venice. Bassanio, an irresponsible young nobleman, tries to borrow more money form his close, melancholy friend Antonio, who has three ships on the open sea engaged in trading voyages. Bassanio wants to woo the lovely Portia, who has a rich dowry, so he needs money to make a good impression on her. Antonio says he has no more money left to lend his friend, so he gets a loan for 3,000 ducats with Shylock, a mercenary Jew.
Antonio, however, has treated Shylock very shabbily and railed against the interest that Shylock and his fellow Jews charge the Christians in Venice. Shylock says he will return such evil with kindness and charge no interest to Antonio. He will, however, demand from Antonio a pound of his flesh if he fails to return the loan in time.
Bassanio cleverly wins Portia’s hand, but news comes that Antonio’s ships have all wrecked. Bassanio hastens to Venice to use Portia’s money to repay Shylock, but Shylock is also upset that his own daughter has run away with one of Antonio and Bassanio’s Christian friends. He demands his pound of flesh, now!
A series of clever and comical plot twists turns the tables on Shylock. Portia is the clever ringmaster of these events, so she plays a final trick on her husband, Bassanio, in a playful revenge on his own duplicitous actions.
This adaptation is nearly entirely faithful to Shakespeare’s great masterpiece, so it accurately portrays the Christian worldview in his play. Thus, the movie extols Christian mercy, grace and love above Shylock the Jew’s legalism and hatred.
However, a brief written prologue and visual scenes in the movie before the beginning of the play’s dialogue, gives written and visual credence to Shylock’s complaints in the original play about how badly the Christians treat the Jews. The movie’s prologue even refers to the Christian “religious fanatics” who, the prologue claims, displayed the most hatred toward the Jews in Venice. This is gratuitous political correctness designed to assuage misguided modern sensibilities.
The movie also contains several gratuitous shots of upper female nudity of, apparently, prostitutes who appear in the streets and in a brothel and who accompany some of the men in Venice. Furthermore, as with some modern interpretations of Shakespeare’s play, the movie suggests that Antonio has an unrequited homosexual love for his friend Bassanio. In one shot, Antonio even kisses Bassanio on the lips, but there is no erotic passion apparent in the kiss. Finally, as in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, some of the women characters dress up as men to solve plot problems and play tricks on other characters. This cross-dressing is not meant to be offensive, of course, and is important to the story, but the other content cited above could easily be cut without hurting the movie at all.
That said, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is a wonderful adaptation by Michael Radford, director of the acclaimed Italian movie IL POSTINO. The actors are all excellent, especially Lynn Collins as Portia, who delivers an impassioned defense of mercy against the evil legalism of Shylock. Collins is also brilliant when, appearing as Portia disguised as a male legal scholar, she deftly uses the letter of the law to hoist Mr. Shylock on his own sadistic petard. Al Pacino’s delivery of Shylock’s famous plea to Christians for kindness to the Jews will also take its place as one of the best scenes from Shakespeare ever placed on film.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is a wonderful adaptation by Michael Radford, director of the acclaimed Italian movie IL POSTINO. The actors are all excellent, especially Lynn Collins as Portia. The movie retains Shakespeare’s pro-Christian worldview, but inserts a line about Christian “religious fanatics” in an ill-conceived prologue. It also contains visual references to prostitutes in the city, who appear partially nude.