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Film / Othello (1995)

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A 1995 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's classic Othello. Directed by Oliver Parker, the film stars Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Irene Jacob as Desdemona and Kenneth Branagh as Iago.
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The film was not financially successful, grossing only $2-some million on an $11 million budget, but suffered the misfortunate combination of being released in a crowded market and in an unusually small theater count (less than three hundred altogether). Despite this, it's generally considered one of the better adaptations of the story. It was also the first film adaptation to feature a black man in the role of Othello.


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The film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The film adds a few scenes:
    • The wedding between Othello and Desdemona is shown at the start, when it happens offscreen in the play.
    • A scene where Desdemona dances for Othello.
    • A love scene between the newlyweds on their first night.
    • Roderigo and Cassio being treated for their wounds in the infirmary.
    • The ending features Othello and Desdemona being buried at sea.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Desdemona was a Venetian girl in the original text, but is played by the French-Swiss Irene Jacob. Likewise her father Brabantio is also played by a French actor.
  • The Artifact: The film changes Othello's murder of Desdemona to him smothering her with the pillows rather than strangling her. But it still keeps in Iago's line suggesting that Othello strangle her.
  • Blue Is Heroic: Cassio's appointment as Othello's lieutenant has him awarded with a blue sash. This is played for Irony when Iago is given the sash - and it's notably absent in the last act when his villainy is made obvious to the characters.
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  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Iago looks at the camera at several points, and at one point even places his hand over the camera lens; some say this adds the idea that he was in control of everything, while it is technically described as a soliloquy in which the audience can more clearly understand Iago's scheme, and he's notably the only character to do so in the film. Though other characters make soliloquies, they look like they're musing to themselves rather than directly speaking to the audience. Another effect of him being the only one to talk to the camera is to emphasise the fact that he might be satanic in some way, since he's clearly operating on a whole different level to the other characters if he has a degree of Medium Awareness.
  • Chess Motifs: During two of his soliloquies, Iago uses chess pieces to represent Othello and Desdemona - the black king and the white queen respectively. In the first, he uses a white knight to represent either himself or Cassio.
  • Demoted to Extra: Bianca appears only in three scenes, and has a good amount lines in just one of them.
  • Dies Wide Open: Desdemona has her eyes open when she dies.
  • Evil Overlooker: Iago's face hovers over Othello and Desdemona on the poster.
  • Foreshadowing: At the start of the film, Desdemona arrives at her secret wedding wearing a black veil - not unlike one worn by those in mourning.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Othello and Desdemona who have a loving marriage (at first anyway) get an intimate, passionate love scene. Iago and Emilia's one sex scene is rough and decidedly un-sexy.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The film depicts a love scene between Othello and Desdemona on their wedding night, as well as giving Othello dreams of Desdemona and Cassio sleeping together. Additionally one of Iago and Roderigo's scenes takes place under a cart that two people are having sex on. And the scene where Desdemona sings the "Willow" song now has her being bathed by Emilia.
  • I Am Very British: Laurence Fishburne gives the titular character an accent that implies Othello is trying to adopt this way of speaking to lose his African accent.
  • Infernal Background: The film has a dramatic scene with Iago, where he monologues to the audience about his evil plan while standing over a chessboard, and a fire is burning in the background.
  • Kubrick Stare: Othello dishes out several of these, especially when he imagines his wife sleeping with Cassio.
  • Lady in Red: During Othello's dream of Desdemona and Cassio sleeping together, his wife is wearing a red nightgown.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: In this version, Cassio, in a final act of loyalty, secretly hands Othello a dagger in the final scene to give him a chance to end his life on his own terms, rather than face dishonor and punishment. This serves to explain how Othello can stab himself after having already been disarmed (twice), but it also makes Cassio's final lines ("This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon") into a lie.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Idealistic and ladylike Desdemona dresses in bold colors (Light Feminine), while more down-to-earth and world-weary Emilia has a more muted shade in her dresses (Dark Feminine).
  • Medium Awareness: Iago is portrayed as having this in several scenes, highlighting the sinister aspects of his character.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Irene Jacob keeps her natural French accent, while everyone else uses English ones. As such Brabantio becomes French too.
  • The Queen's Latin: As expected, everyone in the film except for Desdemona and Brabantio (who become French) speaks with English accents.
  • Race Lift:
    • 'Moor' could refer to any number of ethnic groups in Shakespeare's day, so Othello could be of many races. But this is the first major film adaptation to have him played by an African-American.
    • Bianca's race is not stated in the play, but here she is portrayed by the Ambiguously Brown Indra Ove.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: There's a moment where Othello nearly drowns Iago, resulting in his white shirt becoming quite see-through.
  • Shirtless Scene: Part of what the movie is known for; the title character gets several of these.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Irene Jacob portrays Desdemona this way. Notably when Othello strikes her, she does not weep, and tries to keep calm.
  • True Blue Femininity: Desdemona is frequently clad in blue gowns to emphasise her femininity.

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