- Laurence Fishburne
- Irène Jacob
- Kenneth Branagh
Director Oliver Parker wanted to make Othello a more "pacy" story, so he omitted quite a lot of the original text when writing this version for the screen. Luckily, the cuts and alterations that he has made do little damage to the old Shakesperean chestnut. I wouldn't say that any of the tweaks are particularly for the better, but the essence of Shakespeare's tale of envy, jealousy and deceit is so powerful that it would take a bungling fool - an Ed Wood wannabe, for instance - to rob it of its power. The weighty themes shine through as strongly as ever in this latest presentation.
Laurence Fishburne plays the titular character, a renowned Moorish soldier. His courage has impressed young Venetian lady Desdemona (Irene Jacob) and the pair of them secretly marry. However, her father is displeased by this secret ceremony and he warns Othello that if she can deceive her own father then she may one day do the same to him. One of Othello's soldiers, Iago (Kenneth Branagh) fails to get a promotion of rank which he feels he deserves, and to gain revenge he engineers a series of lies and incidents designed to convince Othello that his wife is being disloyal to him by fornicating with another man.
Inevitably, viewers may find themselves comparing this version with other productions. How does it rank alongside the 1952 Orson Welles version and the 1965 Laurence Olivier one? To be honest, it depends upon the viewer. Purists would probably opt for the Olivier offering, since it is only very slightly abridged and contains such strong performances that all four lead actors earned Oscar nominations. Film buffs might go for the Welles version, with its moody b&w lighting and a now-classic murder scene, not to mention the fact that the production history itself is as fascinating as the story. This version will undoubtedly find favour with viewers more inclined towards modern tastes. It has high production values, a sweeping score, accessible delivery of the lines, flashy photography, and "cool" stylistic touches (Fishburne's head tattoo, for instance). Personally, I feel the 1952 Othello will always be the benchmark, but this one is reasonably well made and it compares quite favourably with other versions.