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“The Merchant of Venice The time ”


written by rappinhood on 25/08/2005

The Merchant of Venice The time
Mid to late 16th century. There is tension between the Jews and the Christians. The Jews can lend money and demand interest; the Christians cannot.

The place
Venice, place of barges, canals and far more water than modern viewers will be used to; also home to a gaggle of bare-breasted prostitutes who appear occasionally

The players
Antonio, the merchant after whom the play and film are named: Jeremy Irons
His prot g , Bassanio: Joseph Fiennes
Bassanio's friend Gratiano: Kris Marshall
Lorenzo, another member of Bassanio's retinue: Charlie Cox
Shylock, a Jewish moneylender: played magnificently by Al Pacino
Portia, Bassanio's love interest: Lynn Collins
Nerissa, Portia's maid: Heather Goldenhersh
Jessica, Shylock's daughter: Zuleika Robinson

The plot
Antonio, a Venetia merchant borrows 3,000 ducats from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, to help his friend Bassanio win the heart of Portia. When Antonio's ships sink, Shylock demands a pound of flesh. Bassanio and Portia try different means of saving Antonio and the drama is finally resolved in a Venetian courtroom.

Scenes and soundtrack
The film is full of warm reds and golds and is like a beautiful Renaissance painting come to life. In that respect, it was a pleasure to watch. The water scenes are lovely are as the shots of a night-time Venice peopled by nobles in masks with long noses. The music which provides the backdrop to the action is composed and arranged by Jocelyn Pook. I found it hauntingly beautiful.

In a word, magnificent. Shylock is beautifully played by Al Pacino, who only slips into Godfather-mode occasionally. His mental disintegration as the story progresses is mirrored by a decline in his standards and dress and equal amounts of pain and fire as he seeks his revenge. Pacino is at his best here and gave the excellent performance I've come to expect from him. Even though I knew the play and the story I couldn't take my eyes from the screen when he was speaking.

Joseph Fiennes is equally convincing as the sensitive and lovelorn Bassanio who moves from hopelessness to happiness to horror as the story unfolds. Jeremy Irons is also a credible Antonio.

The only letdown for me was Portia, who is a strong female character in the Shakespearean play. Although she was well acted, Collins' performance was not on a par with those of the male leads and the 'quality of mercy' speech (one of the many great ones from William Shakespeare) had nowhere near the impact it should have.

One of the most compelling speeches comes from Shylock:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Ancient vs. modern
Despite its setting and language, everyone can relate to the stories of love, friendship and loss. A modern audience might be shocked by the rabid anti-Semitism and the casual way in which the Christians dismiss and even spit upon Jews (this happens to Shylock in court!); this would not have seemed unusual to an Elizabethan audience. On the other hand, Shylock's condemnation of slavery in the court, which seems obvious to us, would have been shocking to them. And we can't help feeling sorry for the despised Shylock, for he is reacting to grief over the loss of his daughter and the racism he has suffered.

Final verdict
Michael Radford has directed an excellent production of Shakespeare's fine play. The running time of 131 minutes passed in a flash. The story of Shylock's daughter and her lover is not well explored in the film, but this does not detract from the compelling performances. The story features love, loss, hatred and revenge and is totally engrossing. Even if you don't like Shakespeare, you'll be able to relate to this enthralling tale. If, like me, you're a Shakespeare buff, you'll love the way his words are translated onto the big screen. Taken in context, this is a great story and the film is a must-see.

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Bertie's Response to rappinhood's Review

Written on: 28/08/2005

Great review there rappinhood - I can't wait to see this one.

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