“Horribly stuffed with epithets of war”
When starting this DVD rewatching enterprise, I knew I’d be happy to see actors I knew and loved earlier on in their careers but I had barely a thought for the directors, particularly Trevor Nunn. His reputation precedes him so far now (in terms of keeping a wide berth) that it is hard to think of him as the interesting and innovative talent that got him to that place but through his stunning Macbeth and this Othello, the evidence is here.
His 1989 RSC Othello played The Other Place to intimate audiences, as did his Macbeth, and it is an approach that pays dividends once again. Still a hefty three and a half hours, its American Civil War setting lends an interesting dynamism in which some brilliant key casting allows real fire and emotion to flourish in a drama that tends to the domestic in its bitter jealousies, fevered realisations and misappropriated affection.
Opera singer Willard White is an unexpectedly affecting Othello, even his speaking voice is blessed with an extraordinary musicality that responds gorgeously to the verse, unafraid to be vulnerable as well as vain as his insecurities are expertly played upon until he explodes. Pulling those strings is a quietly commanding Ian McKellen as Iago, vicious in his emotionless determination to wreak his will and advance his little old racist self.
Imogen Stubbs makes possibly one of the best Desdemona I’ve ever seen (obviously responding well to the director’s intentions…) who garners real empathy from a sometimes tricky character, her emotions dialled right up whether the effusive love for her husband or a searing disbelief at his treatment of her. Completing the set is a consummate Zoë Wanamaker as a forthright Emilia, her unwitting complicity almost too much to bear with her devastating discovery.
A triumphant reminder of the cracking combination of McKellen and Nunn and how reputations are made.