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Set amid the racially charged politics of London's Metropolitan Police Force, Andrew Davies's deft and gripping adaptation of Othello achieves an ideal balance of realism, contemporary relevance, and respect for the rhythms of Shakespeare's play. John Othello is a black police officer who is named commissioner after he defuses a race riot. His friend and colleague Ben Jago (Shakespeare's Iago) is furious at being passed over for the top job, and he secretly begins a plan to destroy Othello by making him believe that his new wife is having an affair.
Eamonn Walker makes Othello's tragic fall believable and moving, but the story belongs, as it often does on stage, to the villain. Christopher Eccleston's Jago is a wonderfully complex creation, defined by his wickedness but as much a victim of it as any other character. Funny, tragic, and crackling with energy, this is an unmissable performance. Credit should also go to Davies for his script--which echoes Shakespeare's without ever quoting it directly--to a strong supporting cast, and to director Geoffrey Sax, who balances the film's realism with slightly stylized touches that give more dramatic punch to key scenes. Othello offers a daring new version of a familiar story, and it succeeds both as a powerful modern drama and as a testament to Shakespeare's insight into human weaknesses. --Simon Leake
From the Back Cover
Obsession, jealousy, betrayal. A powerful black man in a white society. Acclaimed screenwriter Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones's Diary, Moll Flanders, Pride and Prejudice) takes these themes from Shakespeare and reworks them into an achingly intense contemporary story set in present-day London. As racial tensions threaten to explode, political forces propel John Othello (EAMONN WALKER, Unbreakable, Oz) into a high-profile public role over the head of his best friend and mentor Ben Jago (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON, Elizabeth, The Others). Seething with jealousy, Jago maintains a facade as the loyal confidant while seizing on Othello's obsessive love for his beautiful wife, Dessie (KEELEY HAWES, The Blond Bombshell, Wives and Daughters), as the path to his destruction. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE: production notes, cast filmographies and scene index.
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Fortunately the BBC decided to use the concepts of Shakespeare's Othello but not to try to adapt the words to a modern setting. In this version, John Othello is the head of the London police force during a series of racial crises.
After losing at his own game of office politics, and realizing that Othello does not see him as a lover, Jago's plotting uses race only as a weapon. His hatred and revenge are much more personal.
John Othello's tragic end is like that of the Moor: He realizes too late that while Jago/Iago has betrayed him, Othello has eagerly participated in that very betrayal and his own self-destruction.
Well written and well acted, this movie demonstrates the dynamism of the old story of a man "who loved more than any man should."
Like other versions of the story: Not for the faint of heart.
This "Othello" has been translated into the modern language/ context of a London Met Police Department and you should be aware that this is not a direct "loyal" adaptation of Othello. It is a contemporary response to Shakespeare's "Othello" making several significant changes to the narrative detail whilst still maintaining thematic integrity. It has the potential to leave an audience divided over the ending and provoke much intelligent discussion in response. Whilst this "Othello" was made in the same year as "O", I personally believe that it leaves the Amercian film for dead. This film has a strong visual style and all the acting performances are strong. Especially Christopher Eccleston's Ben Jago with his manic asides directly to the camera which I personally really enjoyed.
Whether you watch for it pleasure or for study, this "Othello" deserves to be on your Shakespearean radar.
Don't expect Shakepeare's Othello and you won't be disappointed. This retelling of Othello dispenses with Shakepeare's poetry, replaces it with modern dialog and drops the story down into modern day London. This adaptation also uses the maybe too clever device of having Iago speak directly into the camera and letting the audience know what he's up to, a device lifted from BBC's political thriller, 'House of Cards.' If you're not a purist, it all works. While the Shakepearean language may be missing the core of the story, jealousy, obsession and power come through stunningly.
It didn't feel false, like the so-called 'William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet'.
The acting in it is superb. Eamonn Walker really grabs ahold of the role of John Othello and makes it perfect. I honestly cannot think of another actor that could have played this role to such ability.
Christopher Eccleston's casting to play Ben Jago was the perfect choice. He really gets to the heart of the role. The friend, passed over for the job that was his. The words he uses as narrations are well written, and perfectly acted.
Overall, I give this retelling of Othello 5 stars. Though now, maybe someone can do a full telling of the traditional play in this medium.