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The Merchant of Venice (1980)

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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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

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

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

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17 December 1980 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

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

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Trivia

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 »

Connections

Version of The Merchant of Venice (1919) See more »

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User Reviews

 
This is the best available performance of my favorite Shakespeare
20 July 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I did not appreciate the Gemma Jones recording of The Merchant of Venice until recently when I reviewed five DVD's for showing to a class of undergraduates.

While I personally prefer the 1973 recording with Laurence Olivier, on the strength of his superior performance of Shylock, I found the production to be inadequate for most of the other scenes. This is especially true in the marvelous smaller scenes that need to be explained to students in detail, such as Act II, scene v, where Lancelet reads all kinds of innuendo into telltale palm of his hand -- a fine piece of comedy which Shakespeare wrote for Will Kempe. Also there is the scene where Portia informs Nerissa that they will be dressing as men to defend Antonio (Act III, scene iv) which, here in this production, is actually acted out while the others seem to avoid it. In this famous "cross-dressing" scene, we actually get a sense of the marvelous street slang and punning that would have appealed to Shakespeare's original audience. I also found that in the final act, where the three couples reaffirm their commitments and Portia and Nerissa confront their husbands regarding the rings, the scene is most appealing to a young audience.

I believe the 1980 performance stands out from those available on DVD and should not be overlooked.


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