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Othello (2001)

Shakespeare's Othello retold in modern London; racial tension in the police force collides with jealousy and revenge. An officer suspects his new bride of infidelity.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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John Othello
...
...
Dessie Brabant
...
Michael Cass
...
Lulu
...
Sinclair Carver
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PC Adey
Allan Cutts ...
PC Stiller
...
PC Gaunt
Samantha McDonald ...
Woman in Crowd
Nicholas Gecks ...
Home Secretary
Del Synnott ...
PC Alan Roderick
...
Geoffrey
...
Chief Superintendent
Tim Frances ...
Newspaper Editor
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Storyline

This modern crime drama uses the names of the homonymous Shakespeare play's main characters which inspired its plot. White London Metropolitan Police commissioner Sinclair Carver promises to maintain law and order and further racial integration by recruiting and promoting black and Asian officers, but is taped in the lavatory by a tabloid reporter telling his assistant commissioner Ben Jago there is no black with a brain as big as his dick, and is thus forced to resign. When the death of the black Billy Coates in custody causes racial unrest, John Othello, the only authoritative black police officer, manages to prevent riots by pointing to the press and promising to solve the case; the government names him successor to Carver over his friend Jago's head. The ambitious Ben doesn't show his furious disappointment, but must have his revenge. His plots starts by making sure racists harass Othello's white wife Desdemona, so he can have her 'well guarded' by smooth white superintendent ... Written by KGF Vissers

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28 January 2002 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Scotland Yard-i Othello  »

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Quotes

[first lines]
Ben Jago: It was about love, That's what you've got to understand. Don't talk to me about race, don't talk to me about politics, It was love, simple as that. She loved him as well as she knew how, he loved her more than any man should love a woman. Tragedy, right? No other word for it. I loved him too, you know.
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Version of Othello (1958) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Stunning contemporary adaptation
11 July 2007 | by See all my reviews

My road to appreciating William Shakespeare was indeed a long and strange one--I spent my high-school years loathing this author, who seemed to specialize in stilted, pretentious language for the sole purpose of pissing off contemporary students. Years pass, and my final 2 semesters in college require me to become re-acquainted with an author I never wanted to have to read again. I could almost hear the centuries-dead Bard rattling his jaw with laughter from beyond the grave, chuckling to himself: "I'll teach you to acknowledge my genius yet, just wait!" And a funny thing happened: I actually started to appreciate Bill S. at the end of the first course, and flat-out praised him at the end of the second (which wrapped up with "Othello," now my hands-down favorite Shakespeare play); I graduated with a new-found appreciation for an author I had ignorantly written off years before.

As I have only seen one filmed adaptation of "Othello" (Tim Blake Nelson's well-done teen drama "O"), I picked this version up with great curiosity, wondering what direction it would take. Set in present-day London amid growing racial tensions, John Othello (Eamonn Walker) is a straight-arrow cop whose honesty and courage earns him a promotion to Police Commissioner; his best friend and confidant, Ben Jago (a wonderfully over-the-top Christopher Eccleston), is poisoned with jealousy at this, thinking it is a racially/politically motivated move at a position that is rightfully his. Caught in the middle is pure-hearted Dessi (Keeley Hawes), Jago's intermediary to Othello's destruction.

This "Othello" is a gritty, hard-hitting, and compelling production; the contemporary elements are integrated with ease (cell phones, DNA testing, Internet sites, handguns, etc.), the dialog has been substantially modified for modern ears, yet retains the tragic poetry of Shakespeare's text, and the triangle of key performers is of skilled equality. Eamonn Walker is a toweringly confident Othello, with a winning smile and perceptive eyes that portend everything from rapt euphoria to poisonous jealousy to homicidal rage; Eccleston has a field day with Jago, the bitter, bigoted cop once bound by devotion to his friend, now bound by the devotion to tear him to shreds; Hawes has a smaller but no less substantial role, and comes across as a confident, strong, intelligent woman who knows herself, and is not merely a pawn.

While the entire production is gripping, there are several scenes in particular that stand out: Othello's fearless address to a gang of citizens rioting outside the police station over the beating death of a black man goes from palpable tension to calm seamlessly; Jago's raging 'aside' upon learning of Othello's promotion--his bigoted, blustery rant as he stalks down the corridors of New Scotland Yard swings between sarcasm and seriousness, aided by Eccleston's ability to keep the character grounded in reality; and the scene where Othello, stricken with a full-blown paranoia over his wife's (seeming) misdeeds, tears through their apartment looking for incriminating evidence, filmed in a dizzying style that recalls Roman Polanski's "The Tenant." As a meditation on the frailty of love and the perils of trust, Shakespeare's "Othello" taps into emotions and manipulations that still exist in society; this film faithfully recreates those sentiments through impassioned performances and inspired direction (by Geoffrey Sax). Don't let the words "Masterpiece Theatre" deter you from seeing "Othello"--it really IS that good.

(Note: "Othello" is not rated, but would merit an "R" for violence, sexuality/nudity, and some harsh profanity.)


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