Reviews – Othello

Othello was first broadcast on ITV1, 23-Dec-2001
Produced by Julie Gardner and Anne Pivcevic
Directed by Geoffrey Sax
Theme and incidental music by Debbie Wiseman

by Max Davidson, Mail on Sunday

Shakespeare without the Shakespeare? Surely some mistake? Not a bit of it. The adaptation of Othello by Andrew Davis was a triumph for all concerned.

He retold the story in his words and told it brilliantly. Did I miss the Poetry? Of course. But you would have had to be very dull not to see that the poetry of high drama had been supplanted by something equally thrilling – the poetry of television.

You do not need heightened language to create an effect on the small screen: simple lines, delivered with feeling, can be just as powerful. When all the elements are in place -the lighting, the camerawork, the sound affects – anything is possible.

‘This is not about race,” said Ben Jago, “It is about love.”


The transposition of the play from 16th Century Venice to contemporary London., with a black police officer, John Othello, becoming Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had seemed to put the issue of race centre Stage. A sub-plot, without parallel in Shakespeare, dealt with attempts to weed out racist bigotry from the Met. It was good stuff with a sharp, topical edge.

But as the hero became prey to obsessive jealousy you realised it was, here, in the dark recesses of the human heart, that the real drama lay. There were no rational grounds for Othello to believe that his wife was cheating: his mind had been poisoned against her by his two-faced deputy. But when was love aver rational?

The tragedy which Shakespeare in his genius articulated – and which Andrew Davies in his genius articulated for a new generation – is that you can love someone, marry them, know every inch of their body, but never finally be certain of them.

Eamon Walker in the title role captured the confusions of a man who ‘loved not wisely but too well’ Christopher Eccleston was a hypnotic villain. And for good measure there was a brilliantly atmospheric score from Debbie Wiseman.