Othello (1981), Jonathan Miller (director)

Daniel J. Rowe

It’s always sad when a bard legend leaves us. Unfortunately for us youngins’ we will simply have to suck it up and get used to it, as the legends who brought us great stage performances since the 60s are turning 70, 80 and 90.

So it goes, as another great writer once put it. So it goes.

Bob Hoskins has 114 acting credits to his name, and he played arguably the greatest villain in all of Shakespeare, Iago. It was in the BBC’s 1981 production of Othello. Wanna Watch? Full version below.

That was fun. You’re welcome.

First off, the makeup.

I’ll admit, it takes a second and a little swallowing of appropriateness when Anthony Hopkins (not Moorish) steps on camera as the Moor, Othello. Othello has been portrayed in a number of ways with some actors going full on blackface (always a ‘treat’), some producers amping up the orientalist look (still not completely appetizing), and some productions getting a black actor to play it. The last choice is the best to be sure, but some of the others are not all bad. Are Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier or Paul Scofield racist for wanting the best role or maybe just arrogant to think that they can pull it off?

Pick another part guys. Hey! Why not Iago?

That being said, Hopkins is very good in this Othello. He travels the gauntlet that is the role, and encapsulate the power of the tragedy. He works well alongside the other impressive talent in this play, and is great on-screen with Hoskins.

Speaking of which.

(Hey! Hopkins and Hoskins. That’s fun)

Iago is one of the most complicated and important roles in all of Shakespeare, and if you miscast the sadistic murdering villain, the production’s doomed. Just ask Kenneth Brannagh (Actually, don’t ask. he won’t admit he was the wrong choice. It’s best not to ask).

Hoskins is able to nail the key question about Iago: why does anyone like/believe him? The answer is in the performance. Hoskins is blunt, crude, and a little nasty, but not in the way any of those friends you know you have are. It’s that bluntness and hamminess that allows Iago to throw the other characters off his scent, so he can mess with them and litter the stage with bodies.

That, and the verbal missiles he fires through the fourth wall are great.

Take Act V, scene i, the scene where all of Iago is on display.

Hoskins will be missed as an actor for simply being able to pull of this scene. He, as Iago, first manipulates Roderigo into doing something he’s not entirely sure he wants to do, then laughs at his plan, then realizes he might get found out, decides to kill Cassio, actually kills Roderigo, tears his shirt in two to help mend Cassio (everyone totally buying the act), blames Bianco for being a strumpet and has her carted off, and then nails this killer line:

This is the night that either makes me, or foredoes me quite.

…And scene.

Man this play is great.

It’s worth the three hours to watch Hoskins in this scene. He uses his whole body, and can deliver so much expression with his face. It’s really quite a performance, and he hasn’t even killed his wife yet.

The rest of the cast is also very good.

Just before Act V,i, check out Penelope Wilton (yes Isobel Crawley to those Downton Abbey devotees (poor Matthew)) nail the heartbreaking IV,iii all while being stared at by a skull. Very good.

Sheesh this play is intense.

Oh, and then there’s the final scene. Not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the play or movie version, but let’s just say the final line is not, “all in all it was a really weird trip to Cyprus.”

Demand me nothing; what you know, you know:

From this time forth I will never speak word.

– Iago.

Rest In Peace Bob Hoskins (1942-2014).

You will be missed.

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