Othello ~ the Movies

I don’t usually do movie reviews on my blog, but it was necessary that I complete one for my Back to the Classics Challenge for 2014.  So I moved the books on my list around a bit to target a movie that I’d want to watch and came up with Othello.  And instead of watching only one DVD version, I watched four!

Play/Performance:  The first one was a 2008 production by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, starring Eamonn Walker as Othello and Tim McInnerny as Iago.  While I liked this production, I would probably term it as adequate.  In Othello, Iago is the hub of the story and I have to admit, McInnerny’s performance was not outstanding.  His lines were delivered with a good amount of monotonal yelling (this could be because the production was performed at the Globe and the actors needed to project), but overall, he acted on one level with very few nuances or investigation into the character. Walker’s performance of Othello was more engaging as he embodied an intensity of character which added to the play.  With a better Iago, I would have given it four stars.

Rating:  ★★★


Movie:  Next I watched the 1981 BBC Production starring Anthony Hopkins as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago.  Needless to say, it was a little hard to see Hopkins as Othello.  He’s quite slight and came across more dainty than I was expecting.  The personality of a forceful Moorish military commander didn’t quite break through and the darkened face was sometimes distracting rather than credible.  However, Hoskins as Iago was fantastic.  He lent just the right charm, teasing, roughness and pathological bent to a character that is as varied as he is hateful.  His performance made the play for me.  Without him, I would have only given it 3 stars.  The character of Emilia was also well performed and her speech to Othello at the end of the play is truly electrifying. In fact, most of the lesser characters gave great performances.

Rating:  ★★★


Movie:  Put me out of my misery.  Honestly, I couldn’t finish this 2008 movie adaptation.  No one gave a stellar performance and the actor who played Iago was atrocious!  Is there a worse word than “atrocious”?  If so, I’d use it.  Carlo Rota played Othello and Matthew Deslippe was Iago.  Too bad they didn’t give him “de-slip” right out of the movie.  Ha ha! …… Okay, that was a bad joke!  In any case, he delivered his lines woodenly, yet also like he was struggling to fit them into a comfortable syntax.  I’d never heard of him before as an actor, and now I perhaps know why.  It just wasn’t worth my time to complete watching this one.

Rating:  ★★


Movie:  And the last performance watched was the 1995 movie production of Othello starring Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Kenneth Branagh as Iago.  How can you go wrong with Branagh?  Seriously, you just can’t.  There is slight embellishment, or perhaps interpretation is a better word, and, of course, there was the prerequisite sex scene where in the play it is uncertain whether Othello and Desdemona have consummated their marriage, but really, it’s a solid performance by all. Bravo!

Rating:  ★★★

8 thoughts on “Othello ~ the Movies

  1. I shall look out for the Kenneth Branagh version, though to be honest the Hopkins / Hoskins one is very intriguing! 🙂

    I must admit I have seen very few Shakespeare films / plays. I did see Corin Redgrave in King Lear, that was amazing (that must have been around 2005). As for films – Kenneth Branagh in Much Ado, I enjoyed that, and of course Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo di Caprio.

    I *must* get a hold of some Shakespeare films. 🙂

  2. I really liked the Anthony Hopkins one, except for his performance, sadly. It wasn't bad but he sounds so sophisticated and British, which just comes across odd for a military Moor.

    It was so fun to watch these movies and compare them. It's not just the delivery of the lines, but how the actors use their bodies as well. Just fascinating!

  3. I really liked the Kenneth Branagh version as well! Kenneth Branagh is an awesome Iago. Fishburne was a great Othello too. I've seen excerpts from the BBC Hopkins, but never the whole thing.

    If you were looking for other films, you could add the 2001 film "O," which is based on Othello and places the story in a modern high school setting.

  4. I think some Shakespeare purists may have problems with Branagh, but even when he interprets, I think his interpretations work.

    Thanks for the tip! I didn't know about "O", so I'll check it out. I've also heard there's an Othello starring Orson Welles but I wasn't able to get my hands on it.

    It was fun to do these comparisons. I'll have to do this with some other of Shakespeare's plays.

  5. Well, I don't actually remember if I liked "O." I saw it my last year of high school when it came out. So it was a little while back. But I figured you might want to see it.

    I have seen the Orson Welles one. I remember really liking that one!

  6. Well, I can't find it in either library but I can find clips of it on Youtube. They at least give me an idea of what the movie was like. I quite like Iago in it; the actor does a reasonably sound job with this complex character.

  7. http://montrealgazette.com/entertainment/da-vinci-vs-othello-a-tale-of-two-dramas-on-cbc

    Amazing how opinions can differ when it comes to the Bard. Read the above review. I humbly disagree with your harsh statements of CBC's Othello, especially of Matthew Deslippe's performance. He was so real and subtle in the role and spoke the poetry beautifully. Frankly, I'm tired of all the British pomp when it comes to how Shakespeare should be performed.

  8. As with anything, my characterization was an opinion ……. hopefully a reasonably educated opinion, as I've watched and listened to numerous performances for comparison, but an opinion nevertheless. Just like your words are an opinion. Just because my opinion doesn't match yours, that shouldn't prevent me from having one and vice versa.

    Generally British actors are simply better trained. I know a couple of people who have high level involvement in the movie industry here and they will concede this point and can go into detailed explanation of how they are better trained. They quite admire the training that the British actors get. Brits are also more "steeped" in Shakespeare than we are, which is not surprising as it would be part of a cultural heritage in Britain.

    I did read the article that you linked and was somewhat puzzled. The writer states outright that he has no literature credentials, it sounds like he's read the play only once, and indicates that the movie might be appealing to Bardophobes. On one hand this would hardly be a review I'd go to, to get a intelligent, informed critique of the movie in comparison to the play, and on the other, if I enjoyed Shakespeare, I wouldn't watch a movie that might appeal to people who didn't like his original work. That is, if I'm understanding the word Bardophobe correctly.

    In any case, thanks for your comments. Please understand I was criticizing deSlippe's performance and not his personal character, which, of course, I know nothing about.

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