Othello Review

The evil Iago pretends to be friend of Othello in order to manipulate him to serve his own end in the film version of this Shakespears classic.

by Angie Errigo |
Published on
Release Date:

01 Jan 1995

Running Time:

123 minutes



Original Title:


Like many of Shakespeare’s great tragic figures, Othello is brought down by a fatal flaw; actor-turned-director Oliver Parker’s film adaptation is laid down by several.

Othello’s undoing is sexual jealousy. In case you missed that literature lesson, he’s a brave soldier of African origin and charismatic person who has wed the besotted Desdemona, been put in command of repelling the Turks from Cyprus and thus aroused the envious loathing of Iago, a disappointed officer who applies all his considerable wit to destroying Othello. Iago tricks him into believing his innocent wife is deceiving him with his loyal lieutenant Cassio (Nathaniel Parker).

The most blatant boo-boo in this stagey film is what the producers doubtless considered its chief asset: its international casting for face value. Shaven headed and tattooed, the imposing Fishburne is a proud, sexy and convulsively emotional Othello, but he lacks the experience to put over some of Shakespeare’s most abstract imagery. His palpable pain seems as much from wrestling with the text (even drastically slashed) as from his doubts about his wife. Jacob is lovely and bewildered by her fate, but she is scarcely intelligible, even with most of Desdemona’s dialogue, too, jettisoned. And it falls to Branagh, easy and fluent, to provide the sense in an adaptation that might have been retitled Iago, The Creep Of Venice.

Would that he had also directed. Parker, intent on histrionic close-ups, only recalls now and then that he has the luxury of lavish costumes and beautiful locations. Larger of purse than Orson Welles’ famous production, this has little of the inspiration and none of the invention of that utterly cinematic Othello. Those au fait(two ital) with the play are likely to be enraged by the liberties with the text, the inadequacy of principal performances and a sex scene that’s more MTV than RSC. The uninitiated will be hard pressed to grasp what the hell is going on, and less likely to care.

Flawed and muddled attempt at filming the bard.
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