Audiences will fall in love with Shakespeare in Michael Radford’s film version of the darkly comical The Merchant of Venice.
Based on a Shakespearean play, Merchant is full of Will’s usual tricks. There are young star-crossed lovers, multiple weddings and a case of mistaken identity. However, Merchant has a considerably darker tone than plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play deals heavily with an anti-Semitic society and characters divided by religious lines.
For those unfamiliar, Merchant is the tale of young Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) who is in need of money to travel the seas for an opportunity to win the hand of Portia (Lynn Collins). Portia has recently acquired her father’s fortune upon his death, and is looking for a new man in her life. Bassanio enlists the help of his dear friend Antonio (Jeremy Irons) to raise the necessary funds in order to court the lovely Portia.
Antonio is a wealthy merchant, but invested all of his money into three departed ships. Yet, his credit is good, and he is able to get a loan from Shylock (Al Pacino). Shylock lends Antonio 3,000 ducats on the condition that if the money is not repaid at the end of three months, Shylock may take a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body. The two set the agreement, and the tale of secret lovers, friendship and revenge begins.
Merchant is marvelously brought to the screen with a superb cast, lush Venetian sets and dramatic costumes. Fiennes and Irons do a great job bringing the Shakespearean dialogue to the screen. Pacino’s signature boisterous, raspy growl works in the role of Shylock. It almost feels as if a “Hoo-ha” could be slipped into the dialogue during his heated debates.
The supporting cast nearly outshines the stars. Kris Marshall adds comic relief as Gratiano, Bassanio’s kooky friend. The female cast members are the perfect blend of beauty and brains and exude confidence on screen. Collins is a particular standout as she is disguised for a good portion of the film.
The sets in the film are grand. The waterways of Venice, large castle-like buildings and gorgeous scenery distract from the main characters at times.
The costumes add to the film’s overall rich and detailed feel. Everything is gold, big, dramatic and overblown. Yet it works and adds flare to this remarkable comedy.
Though Shakespeare could come across dowdy and boring, Radford brings new life to this classic tale. The characters speech is decoded in a way that the thick Shakespearean dialogue is easily understood. So no fear, Merchant is an enjoyable version of Shakespeare for dummies.
Comedy, R, Running time: 138 min.