The Merchant of Venice(1973) (TV)

A Jonathan Miller Production

Directed by John Sichel

Starring Laurence Olivier

Summary: This production of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is set in Venice in the 1860s, though the costumes are more Victorian English than 19th century Italian. The displacement of time and place does not reduce the film's qualities as a masterly interpretation of Shakespeare's drama. As the cunning but sympathy-winning Shylock, Laurence Olivier proves once again that he is one of the greatest actors in the twentieth century.

At the beginning of the film Antonio is willing to supply the money that is needed by his best friend Bassanio in order to win Portia, but at present Antonio has no ready cash to offer until his merchant ships return from their various destinations. To follow the will of her father, Portia has to choose a husband based on the results of a test involving three caskets made of gold, silver and lead. Although she has encountered many suitors, who she describes amusingly, her attention is only on Bassanio. Antonio and Bassanio go to Shylock the Jew to borrow money. Shylock agrees to lend 3000 ducats without interest to Antonio as part of an exchange in which Antonio has to pay a pound of his flesh if he is unable to repay the money within 3 months.

Shylock's malcontented servant Launcelot leaves his master and becomes a servant to Bassanio. Jessica, Shylock's daughter, intends to elope with Lorenzo though her father wants to keep her away from the non-Jewish suitors. Launcelot delivers a letter to Lorenzo from Jessica, and the lovers plan to run away from Shylock. With Bassanio's help, the lovers, taking jewels and money, successfully run away. Portia's suitors, including the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Aragon, all fail to win Portio's hand in marriage by choosing the wrong casket.

Shylock is enraged about his daughter's flight and expresses his position of being discriminated against because he is a Jew, and he vents his determination to seek justice and revenge. Salerio and Solanio, two friends of Antonio, talk about Shylock's rage, and they are afraid that a vessel known to be lost at sea may belong to Antonio. Later it is confirmed that Antonio's vessel is the one lost at sea. As a result Antonio is unable to pay 3000 ducats before the appointed date. Shylock intends to take revenge by taking one pound of Antonio's flesh. Antonio's last wish is that Bassanio be present and see Antonio pay the debt with his flesh. Portia secretly begins her plan to rescue Antonio by taking the place of Dr. Bellario.

The Duke attempts to persuade Shylock by emphasizing human mercy. Shylock insists, by emphasizing his legal bond and the need for justice, on getting Antonio's pound of flesh, refusing Bassanio's offer to double the 3000 ducats. (Bassanio has received the money from Portia after successfully choosing the right casket.) Portia and Nerissa come to the court of justice, disguised as Dr. Balthazar and a clerk, taking Dr. Bellario's job to defend Antonio. Although Portia promises to pay three times the amount of the original loan if Shylock tears up the bond, Shylock refuses to break the bond. Bassanio expresses his will to give his life and that of his wife in exchange for Antonio's life, but Shylock still refuses. Portia agrees that because the bond only says one pound of flesh, Shylock can get one pound of Antonio's flesh, but Antonio may not shed one drop of blood and the flesh has to be exactly one pound, no more nor less, or Shylock will have to pay with his own life for not following the exact letter of the law and getting exactly one pound of flesh from Antonio. As soon as Shylock hears her defense, he expresses his will to accept the previous offer of money, but Portia refuses and accuses him of illegally attempting to seek the life of a Venetian citizen. Shylock then is sentenced to render half of his money to the state and the other half to Antonio, who will give it to Jessica and Lorenzo upon Shylock's death, and, more than this, Shylock is forced to become a Christian. Upon hearing this, Shylock half faints onto the ground, and then as he is taken out of the court, his cry is heard. Bassanio wants to pay for Portia's great defense, but she accepts only the marriage ring from him. He gives her the ring, and then Nerissa also gets the marriage ring from Gratiano.

Lorenzo tells Jessica gentle words by appropriating various allusions about night. Portia and Nerissa come and meet Lorenzo and Jessica, Antonio, Bassanio and Gratiano. Nerissa and Portia ask their husbands about the ring, and Bassanio confesses that he gave the ring to the doctor. Portia reveals to them that she is the doctor in the court. A letter is brought to tell them that Antonio's vessel is safe. Nerissa reads to Jessica a paper that sentences Shylock upon death to leave his fortune to Lorenzo and Jessica. As everyone leaves, Jessica is left alone and looks sad.


Other Reviews:

Nicosia, Cyprus, Date: 20 August 2000


Excellent Adaption with Solid Performances This version was set in the early 1900's to give the book a more different feel. The Merchant of Venice would have to be my favorite Shakespeare book and this TV movie would have to be the best out of all the movies I've seen on the Merchant of Venice. It should be noted that the main roles in the film are of top calibre Actors who really perform well, especially Laurence Olivier who did a fantastic job of playing Shylock the Jew. The only over acting would have to come from Prince Arragon and Morocco who definitely go over the top (and I don't think anyone whose read the book would imagine Prince Arragon to be 80 years old) Apart from that slight hiccup from the Slump duo the film is worth watching and is ideal for anyone who wants to study the book or rehearse The Merchant of Venice.

Quoted from IMDB


His obit said it all--Olivier the Great, August 9, 2001

Reviewer: TutorGal from Brooklyn, USA

Pure and simple, there will never be another Olivier--he stands apart, the marvel of his profession. True, his last years were too full of movies just made for a buck, featuring dubious European accents, but when you see him as he was meant to be seen, in Shakespeare, you begin to understand his depths. Take his Shylock, here in "The Merchant of Venice". I had read this play over and over for my Masters thesis, and thought I knew it pretty well. Then, when I saw this video, it was like hearing the dialogue for the very first time. He brings insight into the most inconsequential lines, and of course power to crucial scenes. So why not 5 stars, then? Well, this is one of those versions where the director felt like time traveling. For some reason, it's 1860, and Shylock is wearing a bowler hat. Why? You lose the point that a Renaissance stage jew would have been dressed very differently than the Christian Venetians, a visible indicator of Shylock's alienation. And important scenes with his daughter Jessica have been cut out, in order to force a certain directorial concept. If it ain't broke.... Notwithstanding all this, Olivier's Shylock is really something to behold. I wouldn't trade it for a wilderness of monkeys.

Quoted from Amazon Customer Review


Excellent Olivier, April 30, 2000

Reviewer: richard_t from Europe

The Merchant of Venice has always been one of Shakespeare's most troublesome and controversial plays. Technically it is a comedy because it ends with a wedding, but it explores issues of prejudice and anti-semitism, and Shylock's fate (forced conversion and poverty) is hardly cheering. Hal Holbrooke once said that the measure of any Shylock is how he leaves the stage after the climactic courtroom scene. Olivier's exit is pained, proud, and sad. This is a stark play of a stubborn and despised man who is destroyed not because of his obvious personal flaws, but because of the prejudices and unfairness of his persecutors. After all, Shylock abided by the contract, Antonio weasled out and punished Shylock to boot.

Quoted from Amazon Customer Review