A rich merchant, Antonio is depressed for no good reason, until his good friend Bassanio comes to tell him how he's in love with Portia. Portia's father has died and left a very strange ... See full summary »




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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Franklyn-Robbins ...
Alan David ...
Susan Jameson ...
Daniel Mitchell ...
Marc Zuber ...
Joe Gladwin ...
Roger Martin ...
Leslee Udwin ...


A rich merchant, Antonio is depressed for no good reason, until his good friend Bassanio comes to tell him how he's in love with Portia. Portia's father has died and left a very strange will: only the man that picks the correct casket out of three (silver, gold, and lead) can marry her. Bassanio, unfortunately, is strapped for cash with which to go wooing, and Antonio wants to help, so Antonio borrows the money from Shylock, the money-lender. But Shylock has been nursing a grudge against Antonio's insults, and makes unusual terms to the loan. And when Antonio's business fails, those terms threaten his life, and it's up to Bassanio and Portia to save him. Written by Kathy Li

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Comedy | Drama





Release Date:

17 December 1980 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice  »

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Did You Know?


Although this episode screened to relatively no controversy in the UK, in the US, it created a huge furore. As soon as WNET announced the broadcast date, the Holocaust and Executive Committee (HEC) of the Committee to Bring Nazi War Criminals to Justice sent them a letter demanding the show be cancelled. WNET also received protest letters from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and B'nai B'rith. Additionally, Morris Schappes, editor of Jewish Currents, wrote an open letter of protest to The New York Times. The HEC stated that Shylock can arouse "the deepest hate in the pathological and prejudiced mind," urging WNET "that reason and a reputable insight into the psychopathology of man will impel you to cancel [the play's] screening." They later stated, "our objection is not to art but to the hate monger, whoever the target [...] This includes the singular and particular work of art which when televised is viewed by millions and alarmingly compounds the spread of hate." The ADL stated that screening the episode would be "providing a forum for a Shylock who would have warmed the heart of Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher." PBS and WNET issued a joint statement citing the protests of Saudi Arabians the previous year regarding the screening of Death of a Princess, a docudrama about the public execution of Princess Masha'il, and quoting PBS president Lawrence K. Grossman; "the healthy way to deal with such sensitivities is to air the concerns and criticism, not to bury or ban them." PBS and WNET also pointed out that both producer Jonathan Miller and actor Warren Mitchell are Jewish. For their part, Miller and director Jack Gold had anticipated the controversy, and prepared for it. In the Stone/Hallinan press material, Gold stated, "Shylock's Jewishness in dramatic terms is a metaphor for the fact that he, more than any other character in Venice, is an alien." Miller stated "it's not about Jews versus Christians in the racial sense; it's the world of legislation versus the world of mercy." See more »


Version of The Merchant of Venice (1908) See more »

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User Reviews

Well-acted Shakespeare "comedy"
28 September 2014 | by (Upstate New York) – See all my reviews

The Merchant of Venice (1980) (TV)

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1980) (TV) was directed by Jack Gold. It's a straightforward, well-done version of the play, and I enjoyed watching it. (Well, it's not too easy to actually enjoy Merchant of Venice, because the humiliation and destruction of Shylock are hard to watch. However, I enjoyed watching the film because it followed Shakespeare's text, and it starred excellent actors in the leading roles.

Gemma Jones is a highly capable actor. However, because she was 38 years old at the time, it was hard to accept her as Portia, who is certainly meant to be in her late teens or 20's. Still, she carried it off, and you believed that she was the intelligent, ingenious young woman whom Shakespeare created.

Warren Mitchell, who plays Shylock, is a superb actor. He's well known in England, although I don't think I've ever seen him in a major film role before this one. I really liked his portrayal of Shylock—not as a stereotypical Elizabethan Jew, but as someone who has suffered, and now wants to make someone else suffer. He neither overplays nor underplays his role.

For me, the biggest problem in the movie is that Shylock's most important speech is undercut by a decision made by director Gold. This is the famous speech that begins, "Hath not a Jew eyes?" It's that speech that tells us that, although Shakespeare may have been anti-Semitic, he could also see the world through the eyes of a Jew. Without that speech, Merchant of Venice is just a play about an evil Jew, along with some comic subplots thrown in for laughs.

Of course, Mitchell gave the speech. However, behind him Salanio and Salario are pushing each other and laughing like adolescents when the teacher's back is turned. I assume Gold wanted to make the point that no one cares what Shylock says, even when he is extraordinarily eloquent. Still, I think it was a mistake to rob Shylock—and us, the viewers—of the full impact of this incredible speech.

The Merchant of Venice is like most of the BBC Shakespeare productions that I've seen— strong on acting and costumes, but very modest when it comes to sets. We're so accustomed to seeing sailing ships on the ocean when an actor is talking about sailing ships, that it seems strange to us when we don't see them. This was the way plays were performed in Shakespeare's time, because of lack of technology and lack of money. Well, BBC had the technology, but the money was still lacking, so the producers expect us to use our imagination. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

The BBC Shakespeare series was produced for television, so the movies were meant to be seen on the small screen. I've seen some of them on the large screen, and they work just as well.

Note: The Merchant of Venice is classified as a comedy because most of the characters get married, and no one dies. The problem with that definition is that it forces us to call a play a comedy, when it's tragic and not funny. ("Midsummer Night's Dream" is funny. It may have serious undertones, but it's funny. It really is a comedy.)

However, I think we can change the category of the play, and still keep the definition intact. What happens to Shylock is tantamount to death for him. Even though three couples get married, and no bodies are carried off the stage, I think of this play (and the movie made from it) more as tragedy than as comedy. It's absolutely worth seeing, but certainly not for laughs.

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