Outstanding acting all round

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2005, 12:00am

Enter the movie world of The Merchant of Venice and you will meet some exciting Shakespearean characters brought to life by brilliant actors Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes.

Adapted and directed by award-winning film-maker Michael Radford (Il Postino, The Letters), the film depicts the fate and fortune of a group of Christian noblemen and a wealthy Jewish moneylender Shylock (Pacino) in 16th century Venice.

To help his penniless friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) court the rich and beautiful Portia (Lynn Collins), Antonio (Irons) borrows money from his despised enemy Shylock.

Unfortunately, Antonio's shipping ventures are wrecked in a storm. And Shylock, angered by Antonio's insults and his daughter running off with a Christian nobleman, plans to claim his forfeit by slashing a pound of flesh off Antonio's chest when the loan falls due.

Faithful to the spirit of the original play, Radford's The Merchant of Venice is a must-see for all literature and history students. There is very little action in the film, but Shakespeare's lines are filled with drama and are particularly mesmerising when played by these top class actors.

Pacino's performance should be considered one of his career-highs since the Godfather trilogy. Rather than depicting Shylock as a bloodthirsty villain, Pacino portrays his character's profound loneliness and grief at being discriminated against by a so-called liberal society.

Collins has the classic beauty to play the vibrant and virtuous Portia. Her portrayal is both comical and touching.

Bradford uses simple camerawork, which allows plenty of room for the performers to shine. And thanks to some brilliant cinematography as well as careful set and prop designs, the film is an authentic depiction of the Venetian city-state during the Renaissance.

Adapting The Merchant of Venice - perhaps Shakespeare's most controversial play due to its anti-Jewish theme - to screen is no easy task. But Bradford pulls it off smoothly and creates a wonderful movie for thought-provoking entertainment or the history classroom.

In theatres April 21.