William Shakespeare: Othello
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Towering screen and stage legend Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings, X-Men) stars in this ferocious, deeply human and timeless production of William Shakespeare's classic tragedy from legendary director Trevor Nunn (Les Miserables) and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Noble Moroccan Othello finds his life with beautiful, fiercely loyal Desdemona thrown tragically out of balance when secretly jealous, scheming confidante Iago begins an insidious campaign of lies and treachery. Featuring agracious and dignified performance from celebrated operatic bass Willard White and a superb Imogen Stubbs as the tragic couple, this award-winning presentation is one of the controversial tale's most acclaimed and powerful interpretations to date.
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While it is difficult to gage the precise time setting of the film, one is led to believe based upon the dress of the characters that it occurs in the mid to late 1800s since characters, such as Othello, wear Civil War era military uniforms.
The play is a stage production similar to A&E's production of Romeo and Juliet, with the exception that some lines (but not many) are cut from this Othello production. Film is really dark (poor lighting). [Therefore, I had to raise the lighting setting on my DVD portable DVD player in order to clearly see and interpret the facial expressions of the characters.]
Some Interesting Changes/Interpretations:
Cassio gives Desdemona his officer's coat to wear in 2.1. When Othello arrives, he sees Desdemona wearing Cassio's coat. [While Othello does not say anything about this, the film viewer may interpret this action as one piece of circumstantial evidence that might lead Othello to believe something sexual is going on between the two.]
In 2.3., Iago spikes the wine with some stronger alcoholic beverage. This helps to explain the inconsistency within the play of how Cassio could have become so intoxicated with so little to drink.
Film ends with two images that rotate back and forth: The first is Iago's face as he (seemingly) views the dead bodies of Othello and Desdemona lying on the bed. The second is Othello and Desdemona lying on the bed, dead, Othello's arm around Desdemona's waist.
The very final shot before the background turns completely black is one of Iago's face, seemingly unrepentant despite all the pain and suffering he had caused due to his plots and scheming.
The production is a bit more stage-like than I would have liked. Also, the quality of the DVD is a bit poor and may require you to change the color settings on your TV. Overall, however, the film is quite good. Ian McKellen is a far better Iago in my opinion than Lawrence Oliver or Kenneth Branagh.
I had my doubts.
Usually when I watch a production of Othello, I just know that the whole "deception" of Othello will seem pretty unbelievable at worst and a real stretch at best leaving Othello looking like a real chump; I know that Desdemona will be such an angelic, innocent, boring, flat character that I really won't CARE that she gets killed. I just know these things and I just deal with it and hope that my favorite scenes and monologues will come out OK.
NO LONGER. Those two common weaknesses are the STRENGTHS of this production. Willard White's Othello is brought down as a truly sympathetic and tragic character like never before, while Desdemona charms us from the first and establishes herself as a VERY likable Character. Iago here is played with all the charm and honesty that Sir Ian McKellen can muster, making him all the more SATANIC.
All of these factors go to make the final Tragic scene what it should be: Almost unbearable to watch.
This is the Bard at its absolute best.
Willard White displays great magnitude as Othello. Imogen Stubbs, a.k.a. Mrs. Trevor Nunn, gives us a Desdemona totally fresh and free of all stereotypes. Zoe Wanamaker (otherwise known to younger audiences as Madame Hooch from the first Harry Potter movie) is an amazing Emilia. But the performance that steals the show is Ian McKellen as Iago. Sure he mumbles a lot but what a voice he has. What I especially love is how each monologue or soliloquy or aside is addressed to the camera as if we are part of the action. It helps to feed the tension onscreen. I also felt that the costumes were very Civil War-ish. If they were trying to set the show in the civil war, they forgot to get rid of their British accents. I don't know what it was. Despite these flaws, it was an amazing performance that is worthy of five stars.
Most recent customer reviews
Watching this production gave me a good understanding of the play.