Saturday, July 23, 2011


National Theatre, Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay (Iago), 1965, 158m

Olivier gives a spectacular and uninhibited performance in the title role. This is a staged film which closely follows the text and brings the drama to life in all it's psychological depth. Olivier is an actor, not a star, with the ability to step into the shoes of the most impossible roles. I always recall his portrayal as the Mahdi in Khartoum.

Othello's character portrays universal aspects of human nature. It is more than a romance, more than a tale of jealousy and cuckolding. The disintegration of a mind is portrayed in language of awesome power and precision. His love for Desdemona or more exacty her love for him, is the core around which his being is constructed.

"But there, where I have garner'd up my heart,
Where either I must live, or bear no life;
The fountain from the which my current runs,
Or else dries up; to be discarded thence!"

One can only marvel at such lines. Indeed, "chaos is come again."

More than jealousy, it is doubt which is his doing. Step by step, he tries to build certitude from the seed of doubt, cementing his delusion with driblets of proof. In a sense he is the helpless victim of insurmountable circumstances but finally it is the chinks in his own mind which result in his dissolution. His inner collapse is more profound even than that of Lear, lacking Lear's inner reservoirs. Hamlet in contrast sets force on a project of painful self reconstruction once the onerous duty is imposed on him, concluding with the triumphant "the readiness is all". Macbeth plummets down to the bottom and remains there where no shaft of light can reach.

The film may have cinematic deficiencies, the acting might be overdone. Certainly Finlay as Iago, for which he got a supporting Oscar, delivers his lines with convincing ease and power. He is the philosophic chorus, his intelligence a formidable foil to Othello's tempestuous nature. The simple sets keep us focused on the drama and the ochre palette accentuates the painfilled story. This is unmistakeably drama, Shakespeare, vintage Olivier.

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