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Othello Reviews

A gripping retelling of Shakespeare's tale, set in the London police department. John Othello (Eammon Walker) is a black officer in a largely white police force, a charismatic man from a working class background whose integrity, dedication and determination to uphold the law equally make him a formidable asset. His mentor, Assistant Commissioner Ben Jago (Christopher Eccleston), is an amoral careerist whose personable exterior conceals a seething, scheming ego driven by ambition. Two events converge to force Othello into the limelight. A black man, Billy Coates (Morgan Johnson), is arrested on shaky pretenses and dies in police custody, and Othello single-handed defuses the neighborhood riot the incident incites. Meanwhile, at a swanky press event where Metropolitan Police brass declare their commitment to actively recruiting and promoting black and Asian officers, an undercover investigator records Jago and the Commissioner Sinclair Carver (Bill Paterson) making racist remarks. Carver is forced to resign and rather than promote Jago, higher-ups make a statement by giving the position to Othello. That Othello is admirably qualified to take on the job in no way assuages Jago's fury at having been passed over, and he begins devising a complicated scheme to destroy his protege. Jago deduces that Othello's weak spot is his new wife, Dessie (Keely Hawes), the malleable rich girl he wooed and wed in haste. Jago seduces her best friend, Lulu (Rachael Stirling), and uses her to insinuate himself into Dessie's confidence. Meanwhile, he anonymously stirs up bigoted sentiment against Othello and, when Dessie is threatened by racist skinheads, suggests that Othello put her under police protection, particularly since Othello's new responsibilities keep him away from home so much. He even suggests the man for the job — Othello's trusted associate, Superintendent Michael Cass (Richard Coyle). Jago then plants the seeds of doubt in Othello's mind, playing on his own internalized self-doubts and subtly suggesting that Dessie is having an affair with Cass. Made for UK TV and debuting in the US on public television, this adaptation benefits from excellent performances and a sharp screenplay. Writer Andrew Davies updates the material seamlessly and even manages to make a convincing character of Desdemona, who's often a lovely cipher; this in turn adds emotional impact to the bitter climax. The film also benefits from handsome production design that subtly bridges the past and the present through carefully placed decorative elements, and a score that sound simultaneously modern and traditional. Well worth seeking out.