The story's been around for 400 years. Othello (Lawrence Fishburne) is a Moorish general in the Italian army, and he is the victim of constant prejudice. Desdemona (Irene Jacob) is his Italian lover, and when the pair secretly marry, Othello finds himself the victim of a fiendish plot by his servant Iago (Kenneth Branagh). Iago's motives are also magnified by the presence of young Cassio (Nathaniel Parker), who serves as Othello's right-hand man despite Iago's longer term of service.
And as with any Shakespearean tragedy, there are a number of misunderstandings and, as a result, everybody dies.
The prime difficulty with Othello is the language. Dripping with archaic English, anyone unfamiliar with Shakespeare's original play is going to have a really tough time following the barest facts of the story. The truly sad thing is that the archaisms are largely not Shakespeare's. Rather, first-time writer/director Oliver Parker changed 70 percent of the play during his adaptation, in order to, I guess, make it much more confusing than it really is.
Other problems abound. Iago's motivation (in the film) is never clear at all, Branagh's acting here is pathetic, the very French actress Jacob is woefully miscast as an Italian speaking in English, and while the last 20 minutes of the film are pretty good, they don't make up for the first 100, which are just dreadfully boring. By the time the end finally rolls around, I was hoping they'd all die, and soon.
The few good points? Othello's thinly-veiled message about racism is worthwhile, if a bit obvious, and Fishburne does turn in a great Moor. If he'd had more to work with here, we'd probably have the definitive version of the play. As it is now, it's just a lot of death in Venice.
Run time: 123 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th December 1995
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Production compaines: Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Fresh: 26 Rotten: 12
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Oliver Parker
Screenwriter: Oliver Parker
Starring: Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Irène Jacob as Desdemona, Kenneth Branagh as Iago, Nathaniel Parker as Cassio, Indra Ové as Bianca, Michael Maloney as Roderigo, Anna Patrick as Emilia, Nicholas Farrell as Montano, Michael Sheen as Lodovico