Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
Scholars Online Educational Resources


All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale

Available versions

1922: Dimitri Buchowetzki

1952/1955: Orson Welles

1965: Stuart Burge

1981: Jonathan Miller

1981: Frank Melton

1989: Janet Suzman

1990: Trevor Nunn

1995: Oliver Parker

2007: Wilson Milam

2015: Iqbal Khan, Robin Lough


1992: Nikolai Serebryakov (animated)

2001: “O”

2001: Othello

2006: Omkara


2015: Shakespeare Uncovered, Season 2, Episode 3

1965: Stuart Burge

This is one of six Shakespeare films that Laurence Olivier made over the course of his career: by this time he had already done As You Like It (1936), Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1955). He himself directed Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III; the others, including this one, were directed by others. After this he would make King Lear (1983).

All of them were cutting-edge, big-budget efforts, and their stellar casts include many who would become very famous later. This film is no exception: in particular it features as Iago Frank Finlay, whose career spanned from 1957 to 2009, and included the 1973-74 Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers, where he was the silly and vainglorious Porthos. His Iago is coldly calculating, almost passionless, and chilling to watch as he deliberately weaves the destruction of Othello and the guileless Desdemona. Desdemona is a young and radiant Maggie Smith — better known of late as Harry Potter’s Minerva McGonagall or as Countess Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey. Less well-known at the time were up-and-coming actors Edward Hardwicke, the son of Cedric Hardwicke, and now better known for his Doctor Watson in the BBC Sherlock Holmes series, and, as Cassio, the veteran Shakespearean Derek Jacobi (Hamlet in the BBC Hamlet and Claudius in Branagh’s version, as well as another Claudius — the Roman emperor — in the legendary BBC miniseries I, Claudius). The acting forces here are virtually unequalled, but they are not marshalled merely for star power: these are all excellent actors who take Shakespeare’s excruciating narrative seriously, and carry the emotional weight of this very trying play.

Unlike the three Olivier-directed films (Henry V and Richard III in particular, since they are in color), this does not present a naturalistic cinematic view; while it is not itself filmed from an actual stage production, it has the fixed dimensions of a sound stage; the sets are stagey as well, and coordinated with fairly fixed color palettes. The sky (or background — is it outside or not?) tends to be a muted orange throughout. Within that range, the camera work is cinematic, and the shots are all framed with artistic finesse, offering abundant closeups for critical conversations. There is enough to see in the characters themselves, so that there is not a great deal missing. The overall movement of the play achieves an almost unequalled sense of slow-motion but ineluctable doom. If there is any deficiency in the performance as a whole, it is that in pursuit of its tragic tonality, it tends to elide the occasional flashes of humor — few as they are — that ultimately sharpen the edge of the tragic in the event.

Olivier’s central three Shakespeare films (Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III) all featured brilliant and gorgeous scores by William Walton, probably the finest film composer of his day. Here there is none. There is no music leading into the play, no incidental music during the play, and no music afterward. The sobriety of the handling is part of the overall grave tonality of the whole play, and the very silence speaks volumes.

The film could certainly no longer be made today, since the very white Laurence Olivier plays the role in black makeup. In 1965 it might not have been very controversial, but it would become controversial shortly thereafter. As it is, however, it should be noted that the decision to make Olivier up with a black face did not betoken any racist disrespect; it is nothing like the degrading blackface minstrel shows that are fortunately no longer tolerated at large. Olivier spent months tuning his voice, as well, to achieve the more characteristic sonorities of black actors. His own performance is overall as nuanced as any of his Shakespeare performances, I think, and it’s a case study in a certain style of performance.

There probably is no single definitive version of this play, but this is as close as one is as close as one is likely to find in one prooduction. It’s a play that deserves multiple viewings, and other versions are worth seeing as well.

Bianca: Sheila Reid

Brabantio: Anthony Nicholls

Cassio: Derek Jacobi

Clown: Roy Holder

Company : Andy Bradford

Company: Bruce Purchase

Company: Clive Rust

Company: Dan Meaden

Company: Janie Booth

Company: John McEnery

Company: Lewis Jones

Company: Malcolm Reynold

Company: Michael Gambon

Company: Peter Collier

Company: Peter John

Company: Petronella Barker

Company: Reginald Green

Company: Robert Russell

Cypriot Officer: Christopher Timothy

Cypriot Officer: Trevor Martin

Cypriot Officer: William Hobbs

Desdemona: Maggie Smith

Duke’s Officer: Terence Knapp

Duke of Venice: Harry Lomax

Emilia: Joyce Redman

Gratiano: Michael Turner

Iago: Frank Finlay

Lodovico: Kenneth MacKintosh

Messenger: Nicholas Edmett

Montano: Edward Hardwicke

Othello: Laurence Olivier

Roderigo: Robert Lang

Sailor: Tom Kempinski

Senate Officer: David Hargreaves

Senate Officer: Malcolm Terris

Senator: Keith Marsh