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The Merchant of Venice (1980)

TV-14 | | Comedy, Drama | TV Movie 17 December 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 »


Jack Gold


William Shakespeare (play)

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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Franklyn-Robbins John Franklyn-Robbins ... Antonio
John Rhys-Davies ... Salerio
Alan David Alan David ... Solanio
John Nettles ... Bassanio
Richard Morant ... Lorenzo
Kenneth Cranham ... Gratiano
Gemma Jones ... Portia
Susan Jameson Susan Jameson ... Nerissa
Daniel Mitchell Daniel Mitchell ... Balthasar
Warren Mitchell ... Shylock
Marc Zuber ... Prince of Morocco
Enn Reitel ... Launcelot Gobbo
Joe Gladwin ... Old Gobbo
Roger Martin Roger Martin ... Leonardo
Leslee Udwin Leslee Udwin ... Jessica


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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Drama


TV-14 | See all certifications »






Release Date:

17 December 1980 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

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

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Although this episode screened to relatively no controversy in the UK, in the U.S., it created a huge furor. As soon as WNET announced the broadcast date, the Holocaust and Executive Committee (H.E.C.) 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 (A.D.L.) and B'nai B'rith. Additionally, Morris Schappes, editor of Jewish Currents, wrote an open letter of protest to The New York Times. The H.E.C. 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 A.D.L. 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 regarding the screening of Death of a Princess (1980), 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 Warren Mitchell are Jewish. For their part, Miller and Director Jack Gold had anticipated the controversy, and prepared for it. In the Stone and 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 »


When Jessica leaves her father to go with her lover, she does not close the door. However, when she and her companions leave, the door must have been shut from within even though nobody is within. See more »


Version of The Merchant of Venice (1922) See more »

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User Reviews

beats Larry hands down
11 April 2007 | by thetrevSee all my reviews

Warren Mitchell's portrayal is amazing. Rather than the over-playing of Olivier Mitchell shows a man who is loathed by all and yet is also obviously a product of this loathing. His shifts between pleasure and pain, glory and defeat, hatred and hurting are superb.

A previous poster comments on Mitchell's accent. fair enough, but why just pick on his. All the others should be speaking Italian. Mitchell's Yiddish accent is fine and, for the most part, resists the urge to go 100% comic.

Another poster wrote of the production failing to 'resolve the antisemitic overtones of the play'. So what? Antisemitism has never been resolved and it certainly wasn't in the play... nor, do I feel, was it meant to be. We feel little sympathy for the 'winners' in this piece. Their own virulent antisemitism has been shown and the creation of it, Shylock's twisted avenger, is also obvious.

What surprised me was how, even though I knew the play, Portia came across as the biggest, self-righteous cow in the piece. I had never thought of how the caskets could refer to her when the matter of outer beauty housing less than beautiful things. This beautiful woman has a heart of stone towards the Jew and the foreigners.

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