"Oh Beware, My Lord, of Jealousy": 'Othello' Review
For those of you who do not know, Othello follows the titular character, a Moor manipulated by his trusted companion Iago into believing that Desdemona, his love is having an affair with Cassio, his lieutenant. In turn, the characters begin to destroy each other, themselves and all that has made their lives safe. By pure text, Shakespeare’s stories have stood through the ages simply because the stories are so compelling. They are filled with rich characters and memorable lines of dialogue. They are what writers dream of matching someday. Performances can be a mixed bag; there are some great ones but too many fall into taking the text too dryly. They forget that these plays were crowd pleasers above all else, sometimes even considered vulgar. Oliver Parker’s adaptation of Othello thankfully understands all this, and although the language of the play is very closely followed, it is a top notch drama above all else.
Laurence Fishburne stars as the titular character and gives an incredible, expressive performance. Just one look at his face, and we feel his pain and his confusion. Kenneth Branagh is excellent as Iago; he captures his sliminess, but we can also the good in him, which makes the whole situation all the more painful. The beautiful Irene Jacob does an admirable job as Desdemona, capturing her vulnerability and confusion. Also, be on the lookout for a young Michael Sheen as Ludovico.
Parker directs the film with pure classiness. The cinematography is beautiful and moody, not only taking us to the time of the play, but also into Othello’s headspace. What’s best is how creatively he uses the frame and blocking of the actors to make each scene come alive. We never feel like we are watching a filmed play, but an actual movie. It helps to have some very well-chosen locations and detailed sets.
Perhaps this lavish and excellent adaptation needed a slightly bigger touch to push it even further. It is hard to point at what could’ve made it even better, especially since it is already such a good film. It is a faithful adaptation and one you must watch soon. Just about everything about it is excellent or close to beautiful. This kind of adjustment is the reason why Shakespeare’s work has stayed alive after these many years. Shakespeare’s language is not so easy to understand, but the visual storytelling and acting are so compelling that we can easily get lost in this film.