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The RSC puts a modern-spin on Shakespeare's Hamlet, in this filmed for television version of their stage production. The Prince of Denmark seeks vengeance after his father is murdered and his mother marries the murderer.
Shakespeare's Othello has been uniquely shaped and adapted into a two-hour presentation for television. Focussing on the characters of Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and the villainous Iago, the adaptation presents viewers with a heightened experience of the epic story of love, betrayal, racism and ultimately, revenge. The cast has also recorded a radio drama version of the piece for CBC airwaves. Written by
Lisa Ghione PR
That there are flaws in this attempt at Othello cannot be denied. Its length is not one of these--Orson Welles' Othello is only three minutes longer. Shaikh does not have Welles' genius for stunning visuals, but then, who does? However, there are some errors in the choice of setting for some of the scenes. In particular, the meeting with Ludovico is set in a kitchen--an intensely public and political scene (the public and formal nature of which adds to the outrageousness of Othello's conduct) is set in a private and domestic area.
Likewise, the story does not slow down at the moment of greatest tension (the whole scene starting with Othello's line "It is the cause . . .") Lines are cut everywhere, that is dictated by the time constraints, but it hurts to see then cut to speed up this scene. In this way particularly, the pacing of the story as a whole is off.
The most serious flaw is in the portrayal of Desdemona. This Desdemona seems to take contemptuous offence at Othello's accusations. Her demeanor reminds me of girls in high school. One might plausibly imagine a woman having this kind of reaction, and might find that the unswerving loyalty and devotion which Shakespeare wrote for this character to be implausible or antifeminist. But Shakespeare knew what he was doing. Desdemona's reaction may not represent the norm (as Emilia's does) but in the end she is right not to blame Othello because his jealousy is not natural to him--it has to be created by Iago. And her goodness makes it harder for Othello to do what Iago has convinced him he must do. The struggle between what Othello's mind (as influenced by Iago) and his heart (as influenced by Desdemona's behaviour) are telling him is the basis of the dramatic tension in the lead up to the murder. A Desdemona who blames Othello (wrongly) for falsely accusing her takes away half this tension and deflates the climax of the story.
Nevertheless, this telling of the story is clear and won't put you to sleep. I've seen much worse. Carlo Rota's performance is commendable and Nazneen Contractor as Bianca is splendid. Everyone else is at least adequate.
I'm giving an extra star here because Othello is portrayed as a North African. Ever since Paul Robeson this play has been a vehicle for the American Civil Rights Movement, not surprisingly considering its generally favourable take on miscegenation. In light of certain racist remarks in the 19th century suggesting that it would be impossible to visualize Othello as a sub-saharan African man, it was necessary to play him as such a man.
That has been done, and many times over, with great success, and it is time to turn the page and realize that Shakespeare almost certainly intended Othello to be Moroccan. Moroccans were hot news in Elizabethan England, but nobody knew anything about or had ever seen a sub-saharan African, and were not likely to write about them. What is more, the culture clash between Islamic North Africans and Westerners is now a hot topic, and talk about "honor killings" comes to mind when we see this Othello. It is to be hoped that this is the start of a trend, and we will see Othello's otherness explored in new ways in the future.
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