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 rhyth... more »ms 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« less
Sara Bennett | New Haven, CT United States | 12/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unlike many Shakespeare enthusiasts, I adore modern adaptations and staging of Shakespeare's works. One of the reasons his plays have endured is that they have a timeless quality that is understood generation after generation. His stories capture something essential about human nature that cannot be confined to a historical period.
Some modern versions of Shakespeare use original dialogue with updated settings, costumes, and character relationships. This sometimes works very well, as in Ethan Hawke's Hamlet or the Julie Taymor's Titus (my favorite). In this version of Othello, however, the dialogue has been modernized to match the setting.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I saw it in a class on Shakespeare's Tragedies at Syracuse University which was taught by a reknowned Shakespeare scholar. This was her choice as the best film version of Othello to show us. Othello is a story which translates particularly well into a modern version because it deals with issues such as racism, jealousy, and insecurity that make it applicable to a variety of situations. The acting in this movie is excellent - very believable and powerful. I highly recommend this movie to anyone, whether or not you have previous experience with Othello.
Excellent, but disappointed with DVD
Mind the Gap | 02/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The DVD of this program is approximately 10 minutes shorter than the version shown on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. While watching the DVD, I remembered there were scenes with Dessie's father, played by Joss Ackland, that were not included. It is also not the same aspect ratio as the PBS version."
Every generation gets the Shakespeare it deserves
John L Murphy | 02/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The fact that this movie was shown on PBS' stalwart Masterpiece Theatre is perhaps a bit misleading as to its true nature. This is not because of the quality of the program, which is in fact excellent, but because Masterpiece Theatre tends to conjure images of members of "polite society" taking tea in elegantly furnished drawing rooms. This latest take on "Othello" is very far from that indeed.Adapted from Shakespeare's play by screen-writer Andrew Davies (of "Bridget Jones's Diary" fame), this telling of the classic tale is set in a London that seems unreal and yet far too concrete. While Davies re-casting of the story does indeed largely strip away Shaksepeare's language, playing out the story against the backdrop of a metropolitan police department charged with keeping order in a city where racial tensions are near the boiling point seems both a bold departure and yet somehow true to the spirit of the source material. Bearing in mind the familiarity of the story, there's no need to go into detail on that front, but suffice it to say that this interpretation does not shy away from its darker and sometimes disturbing aspects. Along with Davies' excellent script, the heart of this film is in its two lead players, Eamonn Walker and Christopher Eccleston. Walker is best known for his role on HBO's "Oz," but I remember him best from a memorable role on the series finale of "Homicide." Eccleston recently appeared in "The Others" but cinema buffs may recognize him from Peter Medak's film "Let Him Have It." As Othello and Iago (renamed Jago in this version) respectively, both actors are marvelous, ranking among the best teams to portray this complex relationship. In fact, it's fair to say that the film would be worth watching for their performances alone.There is, of course, more to the film than just their acting. Every aspect of the production excels, and though it was produced for television, there's no question it would have held its own as a theatrical release. Whether you love inventive approaches to Shakespeare or are simply looking for great drama, this "Othello" is for you."
Great to compare with Fishburne-Branagh film version
John L Murphy | Los Angeles | 10/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I teach "Othello" in an intro to literature course for non-liberal arts majors; it's their only chance to study literature at my college, and I find this a well-balanced counterpart to the 1995 Oliver Parker-directed film dramatization starring Laurence Fishburne & Kenneth Branagh. My students tend to prefer the "original" with Shakespeare's language to this BBC-CBC production, but I like this for the energetic gallows humor it provides. While some of my students have seen "O," made around the same time as this Masterpiece Theatre version, this is more adult, and less teenaged in its appeal. It's grimmer than "O," and moves rapidly.
The performances of not only Eamonn Andrews and Christopher Eccleston (who I enjoyed so much in Danny Boyle's "Shallow Grave" in an earlier, equally unhinged role) deserve acclaim. Cass and Desi and Lulu (=Emilia) all do well in difficult scenes, and the conflation of the Rodrigo character into the officer pressured by Jago into recanting his testimony provides a challenging example of how a modern adaptation can alter the original plot and alter characters into this admittedly manic, compressed, and entertaining version. Issues of race, gender, class, and trust all are explored efficiently; how the storyline places Desi's earlier dalliances into her now-faithful relationship with Othello again moves the story into current sexual realism and cultural mores.
Still, even if "Othello" appears to be the play that replaces (as in my textbook anthology!) "Hamlet," it cannot be glossed or streamlined. It is a tale of unrelenting deceit and unforgiving revenge. Trendy topics aside, at its dark core, Othello remains a depressing play, and the ironies and sarcasms of Jago, as with Iago, can be disheartening as you see Desi and Othello trapped. I suspect students recoil at how evil the villain is, and how, in this 2001 version, the contemporary twist at the end only seems to emphasize how our standards may have slipped even further from those of Shakespeare's cloak-and-dagger era.
A final note: the use of technology to enhance Jago's entrapment, using cameras, stalkers, the Net, tape recorders, and good old gossip, updates the story well into our own decade. Similarly, the race riot and nod to Brutus' "I have not come to praise Caesar" speech plays off Andrews' own quiet strength as well as the scene in the restaurant where he reveals his own "race card" in another episode that makes the story even more relevant to today's multicultural but still tense urban society. And, don't forget the substitute for the handkerchief: a nimble plot device! I daresay this improves on the original-- many of my students have a hard time "believing" the awkward manner in which the Bard drops the handkerchief into the storyline!"
Love it or hate it... it's clever
S. Jones | Chicago, IL United States | 11/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"...and I think quite good, actually.
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."