William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice Movie Poster Image

William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice



Sumptuous but not for everyone.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2004
  • Running Time: 131 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Anti-Semitism is a major theme in this movie with characters being mistreated and abused with no consequences to those who commit the crimes.


Peril, a character's life is endangered.


Topless women as a symbol of prostitution or debauchery, implied sexuality.


Some. Shakespeare's insults are impeccably phrased but they are derisive name-calling nonetheless.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that most teens will have trouble at first following Shakespeare's untouched and dense prose. Given that the anti-Semitism of the time is given explicit treatment with Christian characters spitting on, cursing, threatening, and "damning" Jewish citizens forced to live in a ghetto, parents should be aware that sensitive viewers of any age may be upset and that this plus other mature themes render it unsuitable for younger viewers. A character's life is threatened, a young woman runs away with a man against her father's wishes, a man's anger becomes madness, a young woman refers to being orphaned, characters manipulate and lie to one another, and otherwise "good" people show grave intolerance to others based upon their religion or nationality. There is social drinking. Bare-breasted prostitutes beckon to passing men, and one scene has two characters doing business in a brothel.

What's the story?

In this adaptation of Shakespeare's play, young Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) wishes to woo the beautiful heiress, Portia (Lynn Collins), but needs money for this endeavor. Antonio (Jeremy Irons) is a successful Christian trader but is too extended to give Bassanio the loan himself so he turns to a Jewish money-lender, Shylock (Al Pacino), who asks for Antonio's friendship as interest on the loan. The forfeiture for not repaying the loan on time, however, will be a pound of Antonio's flesh, a result neither Shylock nor Antonio foresee due to Antonio's booming business interests. When Shylock's daughter, Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson) elopes with a friend of Bassanio's and Antonio's ships are delayed or destroyed, Shylock seeks retribution through the ultimate punishment of Antonio, by taking the Christian's heart as his pound of flesh.

Is it any good?


Parents who wish to share Shakespeare's appeal with their older kids should be aware that this is a thorny movie with mature themes but wonderfully sketched and acted characters. Unlike perennial favorites Romeo and Juliet and others, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is not Hollywood's first choice for adaptations because of its explicit treatment of anti-Semitism. It is this play that gave rise to the term "Shylock" as a derogatory term for Jews and money-lenders. What is interesting to note is that the play boasts one of Shakespeare's most memorable heroines, the brave and intelligent Portia, who saves herself from disastrous marriages, rescues a man's life, and portions out punishment on the character who would not be merciful.

Venice is shot in rich colors and features contrasting views of simple lives -- particularly those of the devout Christian, Antonio, and the devout Jew, Shylock -- and the decadence of the world around them. Characters watch and discuss the debauchery that glides by on gondolas, the drinking and eating to excess, the prostitutes, and the masks people wear to cover their identities as they drink and romance.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the relationships between Antonio and Bassanio, Portia and her departed father, as well as the one between Shylock and Jessica. How are father-child type relationships at the heart of many of the dynamics of this play? The relationship between Antonio and Shylock becomes representative of other issues -- what are these, and why can they not be resolved more easily?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 29, 2004
DVD/Streaming release date:May 10, 2005
Cast:Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes
Director:Michael Radford
Studio:Sony Pictures Classics
Run time:131 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some nudity

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What parents and kids say

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Educator and Parent Written bydrama teacher April 15, 2013

Why did the Director Add Nudity to Shakespeare? To Get an R Rating! :(

This movie is masterfully done and is very true to the text and intent of the original work of Shakespeare. Sadly they add random scenes to the play which involve prostitutes and there are several moments with full frontal female nudity which only serve to make this play rated R. They were probably only added to change the rating to R because this play does not have objectional material on its own. It is a great story and they did a wonderful job filming it and acting in it. The courtroom scene is wonderful and builds very effectively to the climax of the play. I recommend this play to any who have studied the play or will study it or who want to understand the historical struggles between Christians and Jews in various contexts. The themes of justice vs. mercy are very well illustrated and again very true to the play's original intent. I recommend it very highly. Due to the frontal nudity parents need to be aware and either address this topic or skip those scenes with their teens. The play does not need those moments at all since they are not integral to the plot in any way. I would not show this play to children. They would not understand it and the main plot involves one man trying to get revenge on another man in a very cruel way. As an educator I think it is an excellent play to study in high school and discuss the issues of racism and hate for those who are different from onself and how ridiculous it can be when one lives in a state of judging others. Due to the R rating educators should use caution and be sure that it is possible to show or only show it if there is editing or parent and administrative permission. The courtroom scene alone is worth showing - even if the whole movie cannot be shown.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Teen, 15 years old Written byLiviLux01 April 10, 2015

Need to know Shakespeare

We watched this movie at school for our English Project on Shakespeare and the movie in the sense is really not that bad. There are some parts with bare chested females but apart from that and a few kisses, not a lot of intimacy involved. They do only speak in Shakespearean language so for younger children it is harder to understand but older teen will see it just fine.
What other families should know
Great role models
Teen, 16 years old Written byOfficial Critic February 25, 2013

The Merchant of Venice Review

Not even a compelling performance by Al Pacino as Shylock can make The Merchant of Venice work in its first major big-screen adaptation. Shakespeare's rich language does not fit soundly inside every mouth.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex


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