Film Scouts Reviews


by Kathleen Carroll

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December 14, 1995

The press material describes actor-director Kenneth Branagh as "the man who single-handedly brought the Bard to the malls with his crowd-pleasing HENRY V and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING." It so happens Branagh did not direct OTHELLO, the latest attempt to revitalize a Shakespearean play.

In the fact the director, in this case, is Oliver Parker, a British stage actor and director whose stated goal was "to re-invest the tragedy with passion and romance." Still even though he's merely a player in this visually compelling production it is Branagh's robust and insightful portrayal of Iago that invigorates the entire movie and makes it definitely worth seeing.

The movie opens with two gondolas moving swiftly through a murky Venice canal. Under the cover of darkness a handsome young couple are married with unseemly haste in a clearly secret ceremony. The groom is obviously Othello, the proud Moor who's famous for his military exploits, and he exudes sexual energy as played by that superb American actor Laurence Fishburne.

That Othello is attracted to his fair-skinned Desdemona is

hardly surprising. For she's played by Swiss actress Irene Jacob who is sweetly seductive with her dimpled smile.

It's only when she speaks Shakespeare's famous words that Jacob seems tentative and her European accent becomes an unwelcome distraction. Fishburne suggests the power and awkwardness of a dynamic warrior trapped in a domestic environment that is completely alien to him. But he must compete with one's memory of actors such as Sir Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles who were ultimately more moving because they spoke the poetic language with such authority.

Branagh, however, has reinvented the role of Iago to suit his down-to-earth style of acting. When Branagh as Iago abruptly announces "I hate the Moor" his blunt statement is instantly chilling for it sets him on a course of action that can only end in the horror of bloodshed. It's power that this Iago craves and he's as cunning and as merciless in his manipulation of Othello as any modern day corporate shark.

Parker's intent was to transform OTHELLO into "an erotic thriller" and the movie does convey the sexual tension that propels Othello into a blind rage. But it's Branagh who generates enough energy to possibly transform this movie into a hit at your favorite shopping mall theater.

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