Othello (1965)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Tragedy  |   Run Time - 166 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

This thrilling version of Othello really shouldn't work as a movie, because, in one sense, it isn't even a movie at all. Motion picture purists rail against the kind of adaptation in which one essentially takes a stage play and transfers it to film without rethinking it in cinematic terms, and usually with good reason. This transfer goes even further, not even bothering to change from stage settings to more realistic camera-friendly ones. This is usually a recipe for disaster, but this Othello triumphs because the material is so good (which goes without saying) and, more importantly, because the cast is so perfect that all thoughts of rethinking the production for the camera go out the window. Laurence Olivier's work is towering, magisterial, the kind of performance that leaves the viewer stunned and drained. Yes, it takes a while to get used to Olivier in black makeup, and many may argue that it's inappropriate for a white man to be taking on this role -- but it's hard to keep up that argument when one actually views Olivier working his incredible magic. Fortunately, Frank Finlay as Iago is very nearly his equal, a figure of poisonous menace who knows how to cloak his true nature beneath a believable veneer of concern; without Finlay in the role, this Othello would feel lopsided and off-balance. There's also sterling work from a young and lovely Maggie Smith, a devoted Joyce Redman, and a naïve Derek Jacobi. The performances, so finely attuned to this marvelous text, make this an Othello to treasure.