The Merchant of Venice

Movie Information

In Brief: I was surprised to find that this is the first talkie ever made of The Merchant of Venice, though television — mostly the BBC — has offered it up several times. The reason for the lack of actual films of the play is not hard to fathom, since the inherent anti-Semitism of the subject matter makes this story a tricky proposition — not in the least because the play is one of the Bard’s comedies. Many of these TV productions came under the heading, more or less, of “radical Shakespeare,” which is to say that alterations were made (one is set in the early 1900s, another is set in decadent 1920s Germany a la Cabaret, etc.). “Radical Shakespeare” sometimes pays rich rewards (Richard Loncraine’s fascist version of Richard III, Peter Greenaway’s very unusual version of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books), and other times verges on the silly (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet). Michael Radford’s The Merchant of Venice is also radical, but in an entirely different way. While Radford preserves the mechanics of the plot, he also offers us heroes who are as flawed as the nominal villain, if not more so. In so doing, he has given us a richly rewarding adaptation that offers much more to chew on than one might expect from a play that was long considered simple enough to serve as a standard ninth-grade introduction to Shakespeare. This excerpt was taken from a review by Ken Hanke published on March 23, 2005.  
Genre: Shakespearean Comedy Drama
Director: Michael Radford
Starring: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes
Rated: R

The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Merchant of Venice on Sunday, Oct. 23, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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