Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Othello (1995)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
A Venetian guard shunned of being promoted to Lieutenant looks for revenge.

Othello, the moor of Venice (Laurence Fishburne), has just taken his new wife, Desdemona (Irene Jacob), without the permission of her father, Brabantio. Just as Brabantio looks for the return of his daughter, however, Othello is assigned to prevent the Turks from taking over Cyprus again.

Desdemona wishes to go with Othello so he brings her along with his trusted Lieutenant Cassio (Nathaniel Parker), and his ensign Iago (Kenneth Branagh).

Iago has his own reasons for going, having been shunned for promotion behind Cassio. Iago enlists the help of Roderigo, a disillusioned soldier who believes that Desdemona was previously promised to him, in order to build a web of lies that can only, ultimately, lead to tragedy.

This 1995 adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy sticks very closely to the original play (which itself was loosely based on a 1565 Italian short story by Cinthio). Shakespeare's play had a delicious storyline and the themes of jealousy, lust and racism translate well onto the big screen. It keeps the original Old English language which is difficult to understand at times. I had to put on subtitles in order to get Iago's motive, and although these are also written in Old English it made it far easier to understand - and thus more enjoyable.

The main reason I chose to watch Oliver Parker's Othello was for one of my favourite actors - Laurence Fishburne. He was the first African American to portray Othello in a motion picture by a major studio and I was curious to see how his American accent would sound in an English/Italian play. Initially it was bizarre (the world of The Matrix - where he played Morpheus - is a million miles from that of Othello), but gradually he fit perfectly into the jigsaw, despite taking a back seat to Kenneth Branagh's Iago for most of the film.

Branagh was nominated for a few awards for his portrayal of the antagonist, and it reaffirmed his love of Shakespeare having previously directed and starred in both Hamlet and the Academy Award winning Henry V. The recognition was thoroughly deserved as his character's manipulation is put across with stunning conviction. There are plenty of moments when you can realise just how despicable Iago really is.

The only huge disappointment is how unavailable Othello is on home media. I had to import my copy from Poland thanks to the wonders of eBay - the only downside (apart from the price) was that it had 'Otello' scrawled across the front. If you can find a copy of it, I would certainly recommend giving it a watch.

Difficult to understand initially, but pushed into brilliance thanks to its strong cast.

2 comments:

  1. I was sad when Branagh stopped doing Shakespeare. He only got better at it.

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    Replies
    1. ...and Othello is another fine Branagh film.

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