This 2004 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play (originally written as a comedy, although it feels far more like a drama) stars Al Pacino as Shylock (and he is easily the best thing in this film), Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynne Collins as Portia.
The story, in essence, centres on a deal made between Antonio (the merchant of Venice referred to in the title), and Shylock, a Jewish money-lender. At the time that the story was set, there was much bad feeling between Christians and Jews, and indeed Jews in Venice were required to live in a ghetto of sorts, and to wear red caps in public, to identify as Jewish. Antonio is approached by his friend Bassanio, who has squandered all of his money on his lavish lifestyle, and wants to borrow money off Antonio in order that he can be a suitor to Portia, a rich heiress – if Bassanio marries Portia, all of her riches will be his. Antonio cannot lend him the money, but agrees to act as guarantor if Bassanio can borrow the money elsewhere. Bassanio does so – from Shylock, who attaches a condition to his lending, that if the money is not repaid, Antonio will have to literally forfeit a pound of his flesh to Shylock.
I have watched and enjoyed many Shakespeare film adaptations, and approached this one with high hopes – only, sadly, to have them dashed. Unfortunately, I found this adaptation to be boring and laborious. Joseph Fiennes and Lynda Collins were not convincing as Bassanio and Portia; David Harewood played a small part in the film, in which he was great, but sadly he is in it only briefly. Kris Marshall and Mackenzie Crook did decent enough jobs as Bassanio’s friend Graziano, and Launcelot Gobbo (a young man who works for Shylock), but they were not enough to save this film.
I am however, going to make mention of Al Pacino’s performance, which was simply outstanding. If the rest of the cast (Jeremy Irons aside – he did a great job) had been as good as Pacino, this film would have been fantastic and one I would doubtless have watched over and over. Pacino stole every single scene he was in, and engendered real sympathy in me for his character at the end. Although Shylock is often portrayed and interpreted as a villain, I felt that he was a victim of the times and culture that he lived in, and the craftiness of others. (Much as I enjoy Shakespeare, I don’t believe that either Bassanio or Portia come acres as very decent or likeable characters in the play).
It looks luscious and colourful, but for me, this film was a case of style of over content. It may be worth seeing for the performance of Al Pacino, but other than that, this is one I won’t be watching again.
Year of release: 2004
Director: Michael Radford
Producers: Michael Hammer, Peter James, Robert Jones, Alex Marshall, James Simpson, Manfred Wilde, Gary Hamilton, Andrea Iervolino, Pete Maggi, Julia Verdin, Andreas Bajohra, Bob Bellion, Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Jimmy de Brabant, Edwige Fenech, Nigel Goldsack, Luciano Martino, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette, Bob Portal, Jean-Claude Schlim, Clive Waldron, Roberto Almagia, Irene Masiello
Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Radford
Main cast: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynda Collins, Kris Marshall, Zuleikha Robinson, Charlie Cox, Heather Goldenhersh, Mackenzie Crook