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The Merchant of Venice has been filmed for television several times,
and despite its questionable anti- semitism, remains one of the most
popular and solid of Shakespeare's plays.
As a piece of theatre, this version is well-paced and well-cast - Maggie Smith as Portia, Christopher Gable as Bassanio, Charles Gray as Antonio, Frank Finlay as Shylock. The only poor acting comes from Nerys Hughes as Nerissa, quiet reactions without overacting is obviously not her strong point.
With the menace of Shylock pitted against the cunning of Portia, the courtroom scene in particular shines, while the comedy element with suitors and caskets works well and better than the cheap shots taken in the Olivier version a year later.
Hugely enjoyable and now happily available in the Maggie Smith at the BBC box set.
When I was very little, I usually couldn't sleep so I would sneak out and watch television. One late night, I found this on PBS and was instantly mesmerized. Not just because it was my first full-fledged foray into the world of Shakespeare, but because Maggie Smith's performance was so incredible. Her ability to convey delicate femininity as Portia and sturdy masculinity in her male guise, was incredible. I watched every airing PBS had left of it, I was so taken. To this day, I credit having seen that performance as one of the key reasons I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. If you can find it... watch it. If you enjoy Maggie Smith's breadth of work, you will love this gem.
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