Among the many powerful Shakespeare’s comedies, that in which director Michael Radford has shown his cinematic abilities is in this adaptation of The Merchant of Venice.

In the 16th century in the city of Venice, the penniless Bassanio wishes to marry the beautiful heiress Portia. He therefore turns to his friend Antonio, a wealthy businessman, for financial aid. Being unable to help him personally, Antonio seeks the help of Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. However, between the two there’s bad blood. Shylock sees this as the perfect chance to take revenge on Antonio, after all his derogatory talk. If he is unable to repay the loan when the deadline comes, Antonio will have to pay back by forfeiting a pound of his own flesh. Antonio is sure enough that drastic measures won’t be needed, but something in his plans goes wrong.

Released in 2004, the plot intertwines the themes of morality, revenge and love, along with many other current subjects. The film has great potential, which comes from the skills of renowned actors, such as Al Pacino – in the role of Shylock – added to breathtaking views of the City of Canals.

The accurate historical portrayal sometimes appears to be ostentatious in its display of sumptuous Renaissance costumes and luxurious mansions. Nevertheless, the director managed to make the overall shooting swift and realistic, although the film suffers from a certain imbalance in the characterization of the different figures.

Some sharp eyes might notice a few anachronisms and errors of discontinuity, which however will not be observed by most of us. For instance, the young lady Portia is sometimes portrayed with loose hair or without a headdress, which was considered morally improper by society at that time. Also surprising is the presence of a black swan in a pond, when the arrival of this species in Europe didn’t occur till the late 17th century.

The plot reflects the anti-Semitic attitude that pervades the Shakespearean play, although a Jewish character finally has the chance to speak out for himself. He is depicted as the meanest and cruellest character in the play but his words are nonetheless powerful. “Hath not a Jew eyes?” is the beginning of one of his speeches, which cries aloud against the injustice of discrimination.

All in all, the film is enjoyable and a fine way of spending an intelligent evening in the company of Shakespeare.

Autori: Virginia Arreghini, Ambra Hasanbashaj, Giulio Nadali, Virginia Scantamburlo e Antonietta Solimando