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Everything Comes Full Circle... 

Year: 2001 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Othello holds a special place in my heart as the play that stopped me dismissing Shakespeare's work as a set of hideously soporific torture instruments issued as standard kit to English teachers. Maybe this is because I saw the play before reading it: as recent film adaptations of Shakespeare have demonstrated, the bard's plays are often better performed than read.

Tim Blake Nelson's film is a modern take on Shakespeare's story of love, racism, jealousy and betrayal. Set around a high school basketball team, it follows the story of Odin (Phifer) the team's most gifted player, and also one of its most popular; accepted despite his black skin in a community dominated by whites. His love for his white girlfriend Desi (Stiles) is fully reciprocated and all seems to be going well. But this is Shakespeare after all, the domain of star-crossed lovers, so it's no surprise that there is trouble ahead.

Josh Hartnett turns in a great performance as Machiavellian villain Hugo, apparently Odin's best friend, but secretly plotting to destroy him by preying on his insecurities about his race and his relationship with Desi. The mental destruction of Odin is, as was true in the original, the strongest and most involving part of the story. It is this, as much as the wider issues of race and betrayal, make both Othello and O so absorbing.

The Shakespeare remake path has been followed by a number of directors with varying success, from faithful period reproductions to modern takes such as Romeo & Juliet. The use of a modern setting with modern dialogue gives this film a feeling of continuity that some other combinations have lacked. It may not be the best Shakespeare adaptation (or even the best telling of Othello) but look at it as a teen movie and you'll realise that the existence of a coherent plot and good quality acting take it towards the top of its genre.

Stuart Jarvis

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Screenings of this film:

2002/2003 Spring Term (35mm)