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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
Othello: Shakespeare for those who aren't experts on Shakespeare?
I'm flabbergasted by the low rating here! Particularly since my impression was that when this production first aired, it received generally favourable reviews from the press.
I'll freely admit: I'm no Shakespeare expert. But over the years I've watched a dozen filmed versions of his plays, from big budget Hollywood spectacles, to simple recorded versions of theatre productions, from Sean Connery as Macbeth to Mel Gibson as Hamlet to Christopher Plummer as Prospero. My favourite Shakespeare movie is Zefferelli's Romeo & Juliet. But, honestly, this production of Othello stands very near that.
Maybe it's my lack of expertise on Shakespeare that helped my enjoyment -- I'm not noting what lines have been cut, or which speeches shortened. I can only take it for itself -- and I found it exceptionally compelling. More than I expected given that, for a contemporary audience, Othello's actions are more those of a creepy stalker than a tragic figure who loved "not wisely". But they managed to make the story poignant, and Othello sympathetic.
I thought the look of the thing was sumptuous, the use of colours, the light and shadows -- I liked just looking at it. They go for a weird hybrid of an intimate film with stage-like sets, creating a unique atmosphere, almost a bubble meta-reality. Carlo Rota is very good, making Othello both sympathetic and warm at first, and dangerous and threatening toward the end. I actually liked the quirky kitchen scenes, as they presented a softer, more cultured side to the character -- making his transformation into a wrathful killer more disturbing (even though I'm sure there was an aspect of an "in joke" as earlier in his career, Rota hosted a cooking show!) The cast was quite good. When Graham Abbey was in The Border, an article had mentioned his theatre background, which was hard to reconcile with his jock-like character in that series, but here he proves that classical expertise. Matthew Deslippe was nicely duplicitous as Iago. Even supporting turns were noteworthy, such as Peter Donaldson, or Emma Campbell (as Emilia) in the climax. As for Christine Horne -- other commentators on the IMDb were critical of her, but I thought she was exceptional. She brought strength and intelligence to an otherwise passive role, making Desdemona someone you could root for and more than just a victim. You could believe that she and Othello had a true relationship in better times, that she was more than just arm candy to him.
As a lay person, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I believed in the characters and emotions, despite the tongue-twisting dialogue -- believed in them as flesh and blood people, not just roles in a famous play -- and found it ultimately quite emotional. I generally understood what was happening in the scenes (not always the case for me and Shakespeare!). I thought it was tightly paced and very well acted and a haunting, atmospheric production.
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