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Saturday, July 10, 2010

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1972)

Broadcast just a year before Jonathan Miller’s controversial (and much debated) version with Laurence Olivier as Shylock, this standard-issue production from BBC Play of the Month is under-valued. Frank Finlay, with little special pleading or textual editing, effectively plays Shylock as the logical mercenary, a Jew trapped by his loathing of the unyielding society he labors in. But it’s Maggie Smith, a born Portia, who keeps the play in proper focus. For once, it doesn’t come off as a tragedy with annoying romantic interruptions. The video transfer is unexpectedly sharp so you can’t but stare at the alarming costumes, especially on the men, all lanky limbs clad in asymmetrical doublets & hose. And then, Dame Maggie shows up in disguise as a male with the lankiest limbs of all! It’s fun to spot Christopher Gable & Edward Petherbridge in the cast, but Charles Gray misses too many character opportunities as the melancholy Merchant, a man as lonely & uncoupled, if for different reasons, then his Jewish antagonist. Jeremy Irons, in the otherwise mediocre Pacino version from 2004, gets a lot more out of the character.

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