I managed to pick this up at the checkout of the local garden centre of all places. Strange reasoning behind that one - 'Let's see, I need three bags of compost, half a dozen fence panels... oh, and I think I'll also buy 'The Merchant of Venice'. Mind you, it obviously works. Once I saw the name 'Jeremy Brett' amongst the cast, this DVD's fate was well and truly sealed. The play was recorded in 1973, wonderfully immortalising the National Theatre's production. It was set in the early 1900s, an idea which definitely adds interest to the action.
My knowledge of Shakespeare and his works is not brilliant, therefore my appreciation of them is not particularly impressive. However, it is hard not to feel privileged at being able to witness such a powerful collection of performances from some of the very finest British stage actors. Olivier himself brings enormous depth to the character of Shylock. The range of his voice alone is impressive enough. Because the dramatisation is effectively a theatrical performance, you get the feeling of intimacy that really makes this something special.
As for Jeremy Brett, it takes an actor of some considerable talent and charisma to be able to distract you from Olivier at his best. Mr Brett manages to do that quite effortlessly. So much is unsaid, it is all about the gestures and expressions. Very much the way he worked when bringing Sherlock Holmes to life so vividly. He was of course one of Olivier's company at the National Theatre at the beginning of his career and was very much influenced by the elder man. With that in mind, it is amazing to be able to see them working so closely together in this.
The only slight issue I have with the film can be traced back to Shakespeare's own plotline - the whole saga of Portia successfully managing to hide her identity from Bassanio. That's her husband, by the way. And there's another woman doing a similar job of pulling the wool over the eyes of HER old man as well. Their method? Dressing up as men. Now, they do a reasonable job of looking vaguely masculine, no complaints there. But apart from that their disguises are on a par with Clark Kent's. These women should be immediately recognisable to the milkman, never mind their husbands. I mean to say, the average husband is trained to notice every new hairstyle, every new outfit, every new shade of eyeshadow their wife might care to indulge in ... you can't tell me these two wouldn't be able to identify their own wives!