There is no doubt that this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is a deal site better than those preceding it. Michael Radford has successfully made the play for a wider range of audiences than the rich, Elizabethan audience it was originally made for. Though much of the comedy has been lost through the centuries, this film will make you leave the cinema happily through the settings of scenes and enthusiasm of the actors.
The basic plot: Bassanio (Joseph Feinnes) hears news of Portia’s (Lynn Collins) test to find a suitor. He wishes to try his luck, though he has no money, so he asks his friend Antonio (Jeremy Irons) to give him a loan. Unfortunately, Antonio has no money either, as he has invested in some overseas trading, and with all his boats at sea, he is penniless. Instead, he offers his reliability to receive a loan from a Jewish usurer of his acquaintance.
The usurer, Shylock (Al Pacino) eventually gives the money to Bassanio with a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he does not pay on time. Bassanio then rides off into the distance to take the suitor’s test. He wins and they get married. Then, horror strikes for Antonio when he receives news that his ships have been wrecked out at sea and he therefore cannot repay the bond. It is up to Portia and her handmaid, Nerissa (Heather Goldenhersh), to try to persuade the outcome of the court battle that is to follow.
The film was set on and around the Rialto Bridge, often mentioned by Shakespeare in the play. The play is notorious for being quite dark and Radford has portrayed this brilliantly by contrasting the dark, dangerous streets of Venice with the light, harmonious setting of Portia’s castle in Belmont. These two places are further contrasted by the music, constantly played through the film, with a happy feel to it in the Belmont scenes and the dramatic melodies through the Venice scenes.
There are very few special effects in the film, though they are not needed. The lighting and setting more than adequately provide all the effects necessary for the film. Radford has also made good use of the themes evident in the play, using Love and Hatred as a very apparent recurring theme. This Hatred has been portrayed very sensitively and to good affect. The opening sequence of scenes shows the religious persecution of the Jews in Venice in the late 16th and 17th century and is a clear reminder of the treatment of the Jews during Hitler’s reign in Germany.
The whole film was very well made though a few points let it down. The poor lighting began to annoy me after a while because it started to get to a point where it was extremely hard to see the characters and what they were doing. There were also a few unnecessary characters. Lancelot and his father, Lancelot Gobbo were originally, in my view, cast to provide a short snap of comedy during quite a depressing time of the play, though Radford has left some of the dialogue between these two characters out, and so the comedy has been lost along with their use in the film.
There is also the fact that much of the film’s dialogue has not been changed over the centuries and so some of the language is not necessarily used in today’s world. This may detract some viewers and consequently not give this film the credit it deserves.
Overall, the actors portrayed their roles very well, with enthusiasm and showed in depth research of their individual characteristics and attitudes to emotions. Lynn Collins, in my view, was quite disappointing as Portia. I feel that there was not enough emotion shining through her eyes as Bassanio said in the early scenes of the play. Al Pacino, on the other hand, was inspirational as Shylock and deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of a character that has not been well played in previous adaptations. The other characters were blown away by Pacino’s amazing ability to take any character and make it his own.
Though the film is very much in the past, some people may find themselves in the same position as Portia. She is bound to her dead fathers will, though her future is destined by the outcome of this final testament. She tries to do what is best for her without disobeying her father’s will. Others may find themselves in the same position as Lorenzo and Jessica. Religious hatred is still evident to this day and the situation they find themselves in may still apply today. They are torn between religions, Lorenzo being Christian and Jessica not really wanting to go against her father’s Jewish religion.
Finally, This play is well worth seeing. Its breathtaking scenery and captivating storylines will make anyone pleased that they have seen it, while not fully realising that they have just viewed on of Shakespeare’s plays. This is because so many issues are still relevant in today’s times.