19 August 2013

Othello (Parker)

Othello (Oliver Parker 1995)
  • Director: Oliver Parker
  • Based on play by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Kenneth Branagh, Irène Jacob, Anna Patrick, Michael Maloney, Nathaniel Parker, Nicholas Farrell
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Laurence Fishburne – Akeelah and the Bee, The Matrix Trilogy, Mystic River, What’s Love Got to Do with It, Class Action
    • Kenneth Branagh  – everything. Here are a few: My Week with Marilyn, Frankenstein, Henry V, Valkyrie, Wallander, Swing Kids, The Boat That Rocked, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rabbit Proof Fence, Shackleton, How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Fortunes of War
    • Irene Jacob – My Life So Far, Trois couleurs: Rouge,
    • Anna Patrick – just this
    • Michael Maloney - The Young Victoria, Babel, In the Bleak Midwinter, Hamlet (Branagh), Hamlet (Zefferelli), Henry V
    • Nathaniel Parker – Merlin, Stardust, Inspector Lynley, Hamlet
    • Nicholas Farrell – In the Bleak Midwinter, Twelfth Night, Sex Chips and Rock’n’Roll, Driving Lessons, Hamlet
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: twice before. Now: August 17, 2013

Othello is probably Shakespeare’s most painful play, even more so that The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew because here the coming tragedy is revealed so early and is so unstoppable.  It must be extremely hard to get just right when directing and performing.  I have yet to see a completely satisfying version.
This version is probably the best, overall but there are problems. It’s fast moving and at times exciting even though I know what’s going to happen, but there are too many cuts in the original and altogether too many added scenes. Though esthetically and visually pleasing, we really don’t need the sex scenes. They are so clearly added because it’s the fad and directors don’t seem to believe people will see the movie if they aren’t included.  This movie would have been so much better without them.
And why oh why did Oliver Parker kill off Iago in the end?  Why did Branagh go along with that? The image of the four people, two married couples, lying dead on the bed was just…wrong.
The roles are well cast. Fishburne is without a doubt the best Othello I have seen. It’s easy to relate to his power, his love, his doubts, his agony and his fall.  Visually he’s gorgeous with his earrings, tattoos, hooded capes and shaved head.
Desdemona is an extremely difficult role to get right and no one has that I have seen. Irène Jacob is quite good (sorry – damned with faint praise) and she’s feisty enough at times but is altogether too earnest.
Emila is such a key figure in the play and though her role is almost a parenthesis here Anna Patrick does well in the crucial moments. But I miss Zoë Wanamaker.
Maloney, Farrell and Nathaniel Parker are among my favorite actors and I simply enjoyed seeing their old familiar selves here. They did well even though Maloney was a bit more manic than I see Roderigo.
And the evilest of evils? Branagh as Iago. A greater contrast between Branagh and Ian McKellen or Bob Hoskins is harder to imagine.  Branagh is so low key here, so laid back, that his evil is truly scary.  Branagh’s genius is in making all of his characters totally believable as guys we could know and come into contact with, even be friends with. Hamlet, Benedick, King Henry – the situations are not ones we would find ourselves in but these guys are guys we know and recognize.  Hoskins’ Iago, while brilliant, is so loony that he would drive me crazy if he was somebody I knew.  McKellen, though worthy of every award in the world, is so sleazy and yucky that Iago becomes a tad unbelievable. Branagh, however, is an everyday type Iago.  He could be anyone – one of our neighbors, a co-worker, a cousin.  We like and trust him. We believe him and he destroys us. Branagh’s Iago is a masterpiece.
It’s a lush movie, much like Zefferilli’s Shakespeares or Radford’s Merchant with their lavish costumes and sumptuous scenery. It’s nice but actually I prefer Trevor Nunn’s minimalism. That and Zoë Wanamaker as Emilia.
Otherwise this one is just a bit better. At least this time around.

8 * of 10

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