Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources


All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale

Available versions

1908: Stuart Blackton

1972: Cedric Messina

1973: John Sichel

1980: Jack Gold

2001: Chris Hunt, Trevor Nunn

2004: Michael Radford

2015: Polly Findlay

The Merchant of Venice
2004: Michael Radford

This production created some good-natured stir when it first appeared because it was one of the few for some years that dared to set the play in the place and time in which it was actually set. It’s played out against the background of Venice, with costuming appropriate to the end of the sixteenth century. In the title role (Antonio) we find Jeremy Irons; in the always contentious position of Shylock, Al Pacino. Portia was an actress who was not as well known, Lynn Collins, though her own background and training involved a good deal of Shakespeare, and her performance is radiant and affecting.

The sets, the costuming, and the background scenes are remarkably rich and detailed. The musical score is solid, and there are bits of period music played on period instruments like the theorbo. The intensity and the horror of Shylock’s bond, as he prepares to exact his pound of flesh, is drawn out in explicit detail. The end product is a drippingly gorgeous piece of cinema that captures a good deal of the play in just over two hours.

As a representation of the Shakespeare’s text, and as an interpretation of the question he raises, it is probably not entirely as satisfactory. Pacino, no matter his attempt at an accent, still sounds as if he has come to Venice by way of the Bronx. The hints of a homosexual relationship between Antonio and Basanio, which a number of critics have professed to find in the play, but nobody has ever been able to prove, are here presented more or less as a given. These and other similar tendentious tweaks to the overall play tend (I think) to weaken its grasp of what Shakespeare himself was doing.

The play begins with an instructive few panels telling us that Jews were the objects of discrimination, and so on, with some general tongue-clucking. It isn’t really clear whether the filmmakers are trying preemptively to absolve themselves from some kind of presumptive complicity in an anti-Semitic undertaking, or for some other reason. We get a scene of a religious fanatic (drawn with parodic extremity) preaching against the Jews, and everyone howling about how bad they are. All in all this seems neither necessary nor really helpful, from my perspective, though opinions may differ on that point.

Thus the movie protects itself from any overt charges of political incorrectness that could be laid to the charge of its outward aspect. As the film proceeds, though, most of the complicated questions get answers just a little simpler than what they really need. It slides into a kind of glibness that is faintly unsatisfactory, according to my lights. This is all the more possible, I suggest, because of the cutting of the script.

Perhaps I’m being overly fussy. This is still a version well worth seeing, and I think it avoids some of the worse excesses of many of the other versions. There are many extraordinary visual beauties here, and there are a few roles that are played with real finesse. I’m of mixed mind about Pacino’s performance, which is good in some ways and a bit painful in others. But Jeremy Irons’ world-weary Antoio, Lynn Collins’ Portia, and several of the others, are quite remarkably good. As a counterpoise to the less superficially accurate but more deeply nuanced Hunt/Nunn version (2001), this film can be quite instructive.

Parents and teachers may want to know that the film does contain a small bit of nudity, largely by way of characterizing decadent Venetian society in its day.

Antonio: Jeremy Irons

Aragon : Antonio Gil

Bassanio: Joseph Fiennes

Clerk: Julian Nest

Cush : Marc Maes

Doctor Bellario: Norbert Konne

English Baron: Pieter Riemens

Franciscan Friar: Jules Werner

French Nobleman: Tom Leick

German Count: Jean-François Wolff

Gratiano: Kris Marshall

Jessica: Zuleikha Robinson

Launcelot Gobbo: Mackenzie Crook

Leonardo: Tony Schiena

Lorenzo: Charlie Cox

Nerissa: Heather Goldenhersh

Old Gobbo: Ron Cook

Portia: Lynn Collins

Prince of Morocco: David Harewood

Salerio: John Sessions

Shylock: Al Pacino

Solanio: Gregor Fisher

Soldier: Stéphan Koziak

Stephano: Al Weaver

The Duke: Anton Rodgers

Tubal: Allan Corduner