Thesp steps in for McKellen in 'Merchant'

MILAN — Jeremy Irons will replace Ian McKellen in Michael Radford’s bigscreen adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” because shooting delays have caused conflicts with McKellen’s schedule.

The $30 million pic, originally scheduled to roll in September, is set to start shooting on Nov. 23 in Luxembourg.

Cary Brokaw at Avenue Pictures is producing along with the U.K.’s Spice Factory, with international sales handled by Arclight Films.

Shakespeare’s classic play is the story of a rich merchant, Bassanio, in 16th century Venice who borrows money from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, to help a friend woo a beautiful heiress, Portia. But the merchant faces mortal peril when he can’t repay the debt.

As already announced, Al Pacino stars as Shylock opposite newcomer Lynn Collins as Portia; Joseph Fiennes plays Bassanio. Other principal cast includes Zuleikha Robinson, Mackenzie Crook and Heather Goldenhersh.

Plans are for a 14-week shoot partly in Luxembourg’s Studios DeLux, where Venice is being recreated, and the rest in Venice itself.

Radford has penned the screenplay. His “Merchant” is the first pic based on Shakespeare’s play since Challis Sanderson’s 1922 movie adaptation.

“Amazingly it’s the one Shakespeare that neither Orson Wells nor Lawrence Olivier were able to bring to fruition in their day,” he said in a statement.

The film is financed by British tax fund Movision, Studios DeLux and Italy’s Istituto Luce.

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