Othello, 1995

dir. Oliver Parker

 

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What a great movie! This is one of those films you think about for weeks and weeks after you’ve seen it. From the opening seconds the dark mysterious nature of the story draws you in and you won’t be able to answer your phone or get your tea until the credits roll.

 

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Evil Kenneth Branagh is great. Have you seen The Gingerbread Man? Anyway, in this film he plays a slimy, cunning, crafty, sly, compelling Iago, who is a character extremely difficult to get exactly right. I think because he’s normally such a nice guy in other films and on television and in interviews that there’s something overwhelmingly believable about why everyone trusts him. Between the scenes his true malicious nature screams out across the audience and thunders in the index. Often I see Iago played by actors who although make wonderfully horrible villains are not so convincing as the loyal, trustworthy ‘Ancient’ (means ‘flag-bearer’) that Iago is supposed to be. Branagh pulls it off completely – there are plenty of little moments when you see him smiling here or patting someone on the back there and you think to yourself ‘Damn! He’s good.

 

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Another great thing about this film is Laurence Fishburne; at last I found a movie where he totally escapes Morpheus and becomes a different character; the strong, proud, admirable Othello. His inner-goodness shines out in the opening scenes exactly as Shakespeare required him to do and when his eyes roll in his head like that, when his crocodile tears crawl out of his eyes, when his hand quivers as it holds the candle, I didn’t think of his belief in Neo or how on earth his sunglasses stick to face; he becomes Othello in this film and it is testimony to his skill that he makes Shakespeare as captivating as he does ‘the blue pill or the red pill’. I also recommend Event Horizon and Mystic River for further evidence of the craftsmanship he puts into creating authentic characters.

 

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This film deserves four stars because it is a film that everyone should see at least once in their life; really the play is what deserves to be seen but this film is the best screen adaptation yet, in terms of production if not performance (I think we can agree Welles sets the bar on that count). It is a classical telling of a classic story but it is also made for the modern audience and despite Othello being comprised of a few long scenes they have done a remarkable job at breaking it up into little pieces and sewing them all back together again in order to create a more ‘action packed’ story. Anyone *mature can enjoy this film. Desdemona is an example to all girls who aspire to be a lady. Iago teaches you everything you need to know about putting yourself first. Othello himself is the very essence of what it means to be a man and why patience is such a critical requisite for strength. Othello is such a good play and this film just about does it justice, as far as films go. My favourite line of the play says it all.

 

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