by Cathleen Myers

What a concept. A Shakespearean film in which the Italian Renaissance characters actually wear Italian Renaissance costume for a change instead of Regency, Victorian, or modern costume. And for a change, the richness of the costumes adds to the richness of the ambience as we move from Renaissance Venice to Cyprus - both beautifully vivid, especially the Cyprian crowd scenes. The film, appearing coincidentally in the middle of the O.J. Trial, received little critical attention from nervous critics, but it’s a very moving, very visual adaptation of the tragedy. Kenneth Branaugh as the evil genius Iago for once looks exactly as he should - like a bluff, honest, still youthful but competent soldier - and is an absolutely plausible liar. Othello’s jealousy has rarely been more believably motivated. Lawrence Fishborne is an Othello of stature and dramatic power whose final scenes will move you to tears, while Irene Jacob is Desdemona as we’ve always visualized her - lovely, sensuous and touchingly vulnerable, fatalistic but fighting for love and life. Director Oliver Parker effectively uses hallucination and dream sequences to portray Othello’s jealous imaginations. Both Anna Patrick as a cynical Emilia and Nathaniel Parker as the weak-willed but noble Cassio (who does his lord the final favor of secretly slipping him a dagger to take his own life) make more impression than usual. An underrated film well worth renting.

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