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 M... more »iserables) 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.« less
"I have never made up my mind if it is more painful to watch "Othello" or "King Lear." In both cases, you feel like leaping onto the stage and strangling the leading character for being so utterly stupid. It is the supreme test of any actor to make these men sympathetic enough to move an audience to tears. Once during a lecture, someone asked me for a fast distinction between comedy and tragedy and I came up with "Comedy is what happens when women are in charge, tragedy when men are." I do not think I have seen a really satisfactory performance of "Othello" (in which a good man in charge is taken over by an evil man). More often than not, Iago steals the show, mainly because he is having such a good time duping the entire cast right down to the last few minutes of Act V.
However, we now have an Image Entertainment DVD of a nearly complete "Othello" (ID2622RZDVD) shown on British television in 1990, based on a Royal Shakespeare production directed by Trevor Nunn. Now I do not know what Italian military uniforms looked like in about 1865, when this play seems to be set, but the ones you see are far too much like American Civil War garb. However, there is a point that helps us understand Iago to this "anything but the historical period setting and costuming" attitude toward staging classics nowadays.
Nunn was astute enough to cast an opera baritone, Willard White (whom you might have seen as a magnificent Porgy on an EMI video of the Gershwin work), in the title role. He is able to do with the great rolling iambic lines what another black actor found utterly beyond him in a film version not too long ago, and in the early part of the play he gives us a very likable Othello.
His evil genius, Iago, is played by Ian McKellen as all soldier, standing at strict attention at times even when addressing the audience. Here the blue Union uniform looks just right for a man who will use any "good cause" to conceal his villainy. Unhappily, though, he often lapses into whispers and mutterings that are simply unintelligible-and that too seems to be a sure sign of recent film making.
Nunn has given Imogen Stubbs all the right moves for Desdemona; but I find her voice a little squeaky and her physical appearance a little too girlish to bear the weight of the role. Yes, she is very good but somehow I found her not right. Perhaps you will disagree entirely.
Clive Swift (from "Keeping Up Appearances") is directed to shout far too much as Desdemona's father, while Michael Grandage as the idiot Roderigo is made to fall onto the floor like a spoiled brat (which he is) in a temper tantrum (which looks absurd). The Cassio (Sean Baker) is adequate, the Bianca (Marsha A. Hunt) amateurish. On the other hand, Zoe Wanamaker makes a superb Emilia, and Nunn has found some interesting aspects of her relationship with her "honest" husband, Iago.
The only lines I noticed omitted are most of those between Cassio and the clown, here a silly solider, in a scene that is almost always entirely cut. The pacing is at times far too slow-the video runs 205 minutes-but you really must see this production many times for the great acting of White and McKellen. English and Drama Departments, take note. "
The Green Eyed Monster Strikes with Ferocity
John A Lee III | San Antonio, TX | 05/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Othello is a difficult production for me to watch at any time. Seeing the horrors of jealousy run amuck to the destruction of innocence is painful at the best of times. In the instance of this production it is even more painful because it is so well done.
The story of Othello is that of a Venetian general who marries a local daughter of a nobleman. The general happens to be black. In an effort to sabotage the general, Iago undermines the faith of the husband for his wife leading ultimately to the tragedy of her death. While Shakespeare gives motivations for his characters, interpretations and emphases tend to vary. Kenneth Brannagh's production of Othello emphasies Iago as a troublemake who likes to cause trouble simple for the sake of doing so. This production, with Ian McKellan in the role of Iago, puts more emphasis on his desire for revenge in reaction to a perceived slight. Both are accurate portrayals but the former seems to show more delight in "being bad" wheras the latter seems more inclined to "get even". Both are excellent and accurate but the emphasis in this film makes the heaviness of the theme that much more difficult to endure.
The role of Desdemona is portrayed in this version by Imogen Stubb and she is a delight to watch. She bring an alluring innocence to the role that makes her demise all that much more tragic. So too is the title role played admirably. The problem with Othello is that he is at heart and honorable man but lets his passions rule him and cause him to lash out with devatiging consequence.
This is a fine performance all around with a difficult play. If you can keep your anger at the antics of the characters in check, it is well worth the time."
M. G ORELL | RANDOLPH, MA USA | 02/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have only seen two other productions of Othello. One was an amateurish high-school like production staged as it would have been in Elizabethan times complete with Elizebethan sets and a second one was a production at my high-school set in what was either a modern day boot camp or Iraq with the sort of acting that should have been in the first production I saw. But this one takes the cake. The acting is amazing. Trevor Nunn has given us an amazing production as he has done so before with "Porgy and Bess", "The Merchant of Venice", and "Oklahoma" shattering all set stereotypes. What we get is a powerful production of Shakespeare's tale of jealousy. In short, it's a freakin' good show.
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."
T. Davis | Wichita, KS USA | 09/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As wonderful a production of Othello as there can be found. Plus, it's shot as a stage production which gives it leverage as an educational tool."
So glad they filmed this stage version
M. Harter | United States | 04/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sir Ian McKellan is a perfectly villainous Iago, Imogen Stubbs is a feisty (for a change!) Desdemona. The proof of the pudding is that this cast was continually called upon to reprise their performance of this play at various times and places over a period of seven years before it was finally preserved on video. If you saw the movie version with Kenneth Branagh and Lawrence Fishburne, this version will seem a bit claustrophobic. It's actually fitting for the story, as Othello and Desdemona are forced into the small spaces society makes for them and end up destroyed, not just by Othello's jealousy, but by society's lack of tolerance. This is the most technically perfect of Shakespeare's tragedies, and I am so glad we have this version on film. Sadly, Sir John Gielgud's Hamlet (dubbed to have been a performance "for the ages") was never filmed; I wish so much it had been."