directed by Oliver Parker
(Castle Rock, 1995)
Othello is the story of love across the races against the accepted societal norms complicated by acts of jealousy and betrayal. It is an adaptation of a classic Shakespearean tragedy. Othello (Laurence Fishburne) is a black Moor who falls in love with a white Venusian lady, Desdemona (Irene Jacob) -- and their problems begin after they elope.
Iago (Kenneth Branagh) hates Othello and is jealous of his relationship with Desdemona, so he pretends to be everybody's close friend while working behind the scenes to destroy them. Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio (Nathaniel Parker) and advises Othello to kill them both. Then Iago has only to wait and watch while everyone destroys everyone. Will his plans run smoothly? Will Othello kill Desdemona? Will Roderigo (Michael Maloney) kill Cassio? Will anybody discover the truth before it is too late?
The cast provides a strong performance and is totally believable in the film. Branagh steals the show with his evil Iago, the strongest and most effective of the characters. Jacob is beautiful but her delivery has a plastic quality, not packing the emotional level of the others. (When my husband falsely accused me of an affair, I was extremely upset and definitely not speaking in the calm, smooth manner of this Desdemona.) Still, you will become involved in the soap opera of their lives. You will root for Desdemona, hate Iago and hope Othello learns the truth in time. This movie fully engages all emotions.
The only bad thing about this movie is that you must be able to comprehend Elizabethan English at a conversational speed. Otherwise, be prepared to stop and rewind several times, particularly when Roderigo is speaking.
I am biased against this movie because I love Orson Welles and any Othello will stand in Welles' shadow, in my opinion. (I have read that his 1952 version was reworked in 1992 -- I have not found this "modernized" version but I am definitely looking forward to watching it.)