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OTHELLO

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Shakespeare’s tragic Moor has been rather popular as of late, especially for filmmakers bent on bringing his storied downfall into a modern milieu. Following in the footsteps of the Tim Blake Nelson high school hoop dream O comes a British television production recently seen on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre, which recasts Venice as London and the black general as John Othello (Walker), respected police officer. Newly married to the fair of heart and skin Dessie (Keeley Hawes), Othello finds himself installed as the commissioner of police after single-handedly quelling a ghetto riot, unwittingly benefiting from a racially charged scandal. Of course, that leaves his friend and mentor, Ben Jago (Eccleston), passed over for the promotion that was rightfully his. Writer Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’s Diary) ably adds a few new wrinkles–white supremacists, genetic testing, and affirmative action–to the jealousy-betrayal cocktail so expertly brewed in the original text, but what makes this Othello seethe is Walker. The British actor ignites the production with the same fearsome intensity he brings to the Muslim firebrand he portrays on HBO’s prison saga, Oz. And, as the most vile of Shakespeare’s villains, Eccleston seduces us right along with Othello. But this Iago isn’t the classically mysterious bringer of malice: Davies puts too fine a point on Jago’s reason for plotting his friend’s demise, and in so doing, robs us of the core of Othello’s enduring fascination. Shakespeare’s masterstroke was in presenting a myriad of motives (everything from sexual obsession to professional rage to white pride) for Iago’s treachery and allowing us, the readers, to subconsciously choose for ourselves which is the most understandable, the most excusable. Iago is the villain inside all of us, the one we hope never gets out.