Directed by Michael Radford, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson and Charlie Cox.

William Shakespeare makes a welcome return to the cinema in Michael Radford's adaptation of 'The Merchant of Venice'.  Radford's love of all things Italian is displayed in every scene of this rich and colourful tale of vengeance and betrayal; his attention to detail as committed as it was in his previous masterpiece 'Il Postino'.

Set in 16th century Venice, when Christians confined Jews to a walled ghetto, Radford transports us to a time where religious hatred was widespread and Jews' only source of income was money lending. The story centres on the merchant, Antonio (Irons), who is forced to secure a short-term loan from Shylock (Pacino) for his close friend Bassanio (Fiennes), in order that he may woo the wealthy and fair Portia (Collins). 

When the merchant's ships run into misfortune, his debt to the moneylender is far greater than monetary, the forfeit for non-payment a pound of Antonio's Christian flesh. Shylock, it transpires, is at war with the contemptuous Christian community and his daughter Jessica (Robinson) has eloped to marry one of them, Lorenzo (Cox), turning her back on her father and her religion. The climax of the movie comes in a showdown between Antonio and Shylock, in a tense courtroom battle where both Irons and Pacino excel. 

This is a tale of greed and mercy and as with other works by Shakespeare, it is still as relevant today as it was when first performed. At the centre of it all is Pacino. In a marvellous performance, he gives new life to old words, filling the screen as one of Shakespeare's most unforgiving characters. His portrayal is remarkably controlled and layered and when he disappears from screen with 20 minutes to go, you can feel the loss as minor characters tie up subplots.

Containing all the great elements we associate with Shakespeare - love, revenge and tension - this is a well-directed and visually appealing treat for those looking for a more challenging film this Christmas.

Seán Kavanagh