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The Merchant Of Venice review

Say what you like about Kenneth Branagh - at least his Shakespeares sparkle on screen. And his Hamlet et al look all the more impressive in light of this lifeless adaptation of the Bard's tricky tragi-comedy.

Michael Radford helms, but after two drab hours you feel he could barely direct tourists to Stratford-upon-Avon. He makes Venice look sumptuous but his staging is stifling, with only Al Pacino's energy holding the attention.

Al is Shylock, the Jewish merchant who's so harassed by 16th-century Christians he seizes an opportunity to punish a welching creditor (Jeremy Irons) by demanding a literal pound of flesh. Spitting hatred and raging for revenge, Pacino gives a bravura turn reminiscent of his Richard III.

The play has obvious contemporary resonance as a story in which the persecuted becomes the persecutor. But the clottish direction ensures it's the audience who are oppressed.

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