Given that for years since the release of his Henry V Olivier was deemed the definitive interpreter of Shakespeare, it was not entirely unexpected that Olivier's Othello would be above standard. However, what was a surprise was that at a time when the civil rights movement was at its most vigorous, Olivier donned blackface to play the lead role. There were many black actors who could have played the tormented general but it was generally believed that none of them could handle Shakespearean verse in RP ('received pronunciation'), the unofficial accent with which to speak Shakespeare. The film stands as a document of both the passing of the old style of acting and Olivier's box office appeal. The young Maggie Smith is a beautiful but sophisticated Desdemona, and the young Derek Jacobi is an eager Cassio. But there is no doubt that this is Olivier's film, although he was not as involved as in his other Shakespeare projects. Olivier coveys the sense of futility that Othello suffers at the hands of Iago and his half-truths, a man who realises too late that he loved 'not wisely, but too well'. The majority of the film was shot on an indoor set, but even so, the performances engage the viewer with a sense of reality of the pain and confusion the leads endure. This may not be Olivier's best effort, but it is nonetheless an interpretation that will continue to be studied and enjoyed. - J.R. Costa
Cast: Othello: Laurence Olivier; Desdemona: Maggie Smith; Emilia: Joyce Redman; Iago: Frank Finlay; Cassio: Derek Jacobi; Roderigo: Robert Lang; Lodovico: Kenneth MacKintosh; Brabantio: Anthony Nicholls; Bianca: Sheila Reid; Senate Officers: Malcolm Terrace, David Hargreaves; Gratiano: Michael Turner; Duke of Venice: Harry Lomax; Senator: Kenneth Marsh; Sailor Tom Kempinski; Messenger: Nicholas Edmett; Montano: Edward Hardwicke; Cypriot Officers: William Hobbs, Trevor Martin, Christopher Timothy; Clown: Roy Holder.
Director: Stuart Barge, John Dexter (uncredited); Writer: William Shakespeare; Producers: John Brabourne, Anthony Havelock-Allan; Production Company: BHE Films.
Black and white. Runtime: 165 mins.
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