19 August 2013

Othello (Nunn)

Othello (Trevor Nunn 1990)
  • Director: Trevor Nunn
  • Based on play by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Willard White, Ian McKellen, Imogen Stubbs, Zoë Wanamaker, Marsha Hunt, Michael Grandage, Sean Baker
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Willard White – only this
    • Ian McKellen  – King Lear, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Extras, X Men, Richard III, The Ballad of Little Jo.
    • Imogen Stubbs – Sense and Sensibility, Twelfth Night
    • Zoë Wanamaker – My Week with Marilyn, the quiddich coach in the Harry Potter movies, David Copperfield, Wilde, Richard III, Othello and a lot of British TV series
    • Michael Grandage – Madness of King George
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: twice before. Now: August 11, 2013


Again I find this Trevor Nunn production powerful but flawed.  The flaws lie in the casting, or maybe the direction, of Desdemona mainly. Imogen Stubbs has many good qualities and in the end here she brings some force to her role but in her portrayal Desdemona is not strong, thoughtful, witty or profound as Shakespeare created her. Stubbs portrays her as an anxious, frightened deer and a silly coquettish schoolgirl. At most Othello would have had a passing fancy for her, not a deep passion. She is too shallow to have a passion at all.
Oh that was harsh.  Perhaps unfair.
But one more objection before going on to the film’s excellent qualities. It’s too long.  The play itself is long and the length is necessary in order to to build up the painful and very dramatic climax but it must be done swiftly and smoothly. Here many scenes are drawn out and feel repetitive though they are not.  Cutting a minute here and there would have been enough to tighten it up.
Now to the good stuff. Willard White as Othello is powerful and tragic and essentially right for the part though I must confess to a nervousness with great big guys with very deep bass voices.  He often speaks more like an opera singer than a regular guy but when he speaks in a normal voice he is very good.
Zoë Wanamaker is a terrific Emilia. Her whistling and pipe smoking add to her air of independence and sharpness in a marriage and job that puzzle and worry her. Her bitter views on men and relationships ring absolutely true.  She is awesome.
And now we have Iago.  Ian McKellen is just so…fill in here with any superlative you want.  He is completely sickening as the jealous sexually obsessed husband, terrifying as the manipulative false friend and utterly believable as the solicitous reluctant informer. With the smallest of facial expressions and leers, glares and stares directly into the camera, McKellen is the Iagoest Iago I have ever seen. He should have gotten an Oscar and everything else available.
A word on the visual and audio effects. Set in a Crimean-BoerWar type period, the minimalist black, white and beige colors serve admirably to accentuate the passion and make the black skin and white skin painfully beautiful.  The haunting cicada drone in the background throughout most (all?) of the play subtly builds up the heat and the drama.  Wise choices on Nunn’s part.
In the final act, the death scenes themselves don’t quite come off right but the power of Shakespeare’s words carry them through and I am, as always, left stunned and exhausted.

8 * of 10

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