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

1990: Trevor Nunn

This is a made-for-television production based on one from the Royal Shakespeare Company with Trevor Nunn at the helm. It is not a full-dress cinematic treatment like Oliver Parker’s or Orson Welles’s, or even a hybrid stage-and-film composite like Olivier’s, but it is filmed in a sound-stage with a minimal stage-like set. It is distinct from a live performance in that there is no audience in view, and the camera work is close-in rather than at a distance, but otherwise it is fairly unadorned.

Nunn is one of the originators — back in the late 1960s — of the notion that Shakespeare plays should be staged in a variety of different settings and times, with relevant costumes and therewith also the cultural overtones implicit in the transposition. He set The Merchant of Venice in Berlin of the 1930s, with its rising tide of virulent anti-Semitism; he has worked similar transpositions in a number of other performances as well. His productions have usually been within the bounds of taste and good sense, though many who have followed in his tradition have been more whimsical and random. Even Nunn’s productions occasionally pick up cultural notes that are not really present in the original, or distort those that are, and that is apparently part of his purpose. I doubt that he or his heirs to this tradition would find, say, a science fiction or fantasy setting as useful or pregnant as these historical changes. Still, as a vehicle for some sort of message, it seems awfully heavy-handed and unfeelingly blunt: while The Merchant of Venice of course entails the anti-Semitic culture of Venice in the sixteenth century, it’s not really of the same sort as what swept through Nazi Germany. It is perhaps with the intention of focusing upon the racial issues implicit in Othello that he sets it in a situation that looks like the military of the Union army of the American Civil War (with slight changes, but still much the same appearance in the uniforms — the caps are distinctive). Is there a point really to be harvested from this? I’m not sure. I am not convinced that Othello is primarily about racism, any more than The Merchant of Venice is primarily about anti-Semitism. Arguably it is even less so.

But ignore that issue as a peculiarity of Nunn’s. It’s really of little or no account, as far as I’m concerned — little more than a distraction. Fortunately, though, it is not really terribly distracting. Taken on its own terms, irrespective of quirks of costuming, the production is as powerful an expression of Othello as any you are likely to see. Part of this is because it is basically a full-length treatment of the play — at 205 minutes, more than twice as long as some of the others (the Orson Welles version was a spare 90 minutes). There is something to be said for having the full spread of Shakespeare’s tapestry to work with. It is only very little compressed, if at all, and it does not expend much of its supply of available minutes on purely cinematic effects.

One must also credit the extraordinary acting throughout, and it really is some of the best I have ever seen in this play. The role of Othello himself is taken by Willard White, a Jamaican-born actor of formidable performing skills and a phenomenal voice. Not only a player but a classically trained opera singer, he has sung Sir John Falstaff in Verdi’s Falstaff (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor), Porgy in Porgy and Bess, and the extremely taxing role of Klingsor in Wagner’s Parsifal. His voice is magnificently rich and powerful, and his presence on stage is every bit as imposing as his voice. He carries himself with nobility, beginning in an elegantly reserved note — more so than many of the other Othellos reviewed here. Of course as the play unfolds, he falls apart and manifests his desperation and confusion as his world closes in and a mad jealousy engulfs him, thanks to the connivance of Iago. This is a very finely tuned performance with more gradations of feeling between point a and point b than almost any other Othello I have seen.

Iago in turn is played by Ian McKellen, whom many know as Peter Jackson’s Gandalf and a lot of other characters here and there; he’s a Shakespearean of long standing and experience, as one can discover many other places on this site. His Iago is as complex and nuanced as any I have seen, and he is a superb emotional foil to White’s Othello: the intricacies of their relationship are not pared back for economy, and are allowed to appear in all their contradictory complexity. Though his ultimate reason for so hating Othello is a bit murky (as it is in any production, since it’s not completely clear from the text of the play), McKellen manages to make it completely credible, which is saying a good deal. He expresses his character with protean finesse — sweet-talking one person and then another, while playing each off against the other with sociopathic precision. It’s completely believable, and therefore one of the more horrifying things about the production — a disturbingly believable rendition of a man with an unaccountable obsession and no conscience. If only we didn’t know that such people exist in the real world too.

The role of Desdemona is taken by Imogen Stubbs, who has appeared in very few films, but who worked for quite a while in the Royal Shakespeare Company. She married Trevor Nunn a short time after this film was made, and, in the Nunn-directed Twelfth Night (1996), she plays Viola quite elegantly. Her Desdemona seems more a childish innocent than many another, but even then she not merely naive. Her innocence is initially beguiling, but not stupid; she knows exactly how to deal with her father in the first scene where he is claiming that she has been stolen from him. Her unfolding loss of innocence shapes the tragedy of her undoing, though she is undone for reasons beyond her control, and almost but not quite beyond her understanding. When she finally realizes in her final scene what has come upon her, and that she will not escape an undeserved fate, she combines a sense of panic and then something like acceptance in a breathtaking and moving fusion — arguably more subtly than any of the other Desdemonas I have seen as well. The fact that the script is so little cut deserves credit for giving her room to map the complexities of the character, but clearly she also had the wit and the good direction to take advantage of them.

Zoë Wanamaker is probably best known to a wider audience today from her role in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as Madame Hooch, the flying instructor with the weird cat-eyes. As Emilia here, her eyes are normal, but her acting is exceptional. She brings more passion and intensity to the role of Emilia than any other I have seen. It’s not a long part, and perhaps not considered as much of a plum role as the three principal adversaries, but it is explosively powerful, and the last scene affords her some magnificent speeches running through a cascade of emotional reactions ranging from perplexity to high and justifiable indignation. Wanamaker brings to the part a good deal more nuance than is normal for the role, and if there were nothing else to see here (and there is a lot) it would make the whole worth watching.

As stage/screen hybrid renditions of the play go, this is an extraordinary piece of work; it’s arguably extraordinary on any terms, without restriction — all the more for the minimalism of the production. Its staging is spare, and its art direction modest. There is no music (other than the songs sung at various points and an occasional bit of bugling in the background). What it achieves, it achieves without special effects, without emotional coaching from a swelling orchestra behind the scenes, or any of the other more or less conventional additions to cinematic renditions. It’s a textbook study in how intensely Shakespeare can be performed without bells and whistles, but with passion and serious investment in the play he wrote.

I remain skeptical of historical transpositions of any sort unless there’s some good reason for them, but many of them are ultimately of little account. (Some, I think, are merely stupid, and the worst of them positively obstruct the play — e.g., the Longcraine Richard III (1996) or the Baz Luhrman Romeo + Juliet (also 1996 — it seems to have been a bad year for that sort of thing). The best I can say for this one is that here, the transposition is not overly clever, or the apparent object of the exercise, and hence it doesn’t interfere greatly with the enjoyment of the play. That’s good, for there is a great deal here to be appreciated for what it is. It will take a while to see it through, and it’s frankly a grueling experience, but Othello is supposed to be a grueling experience. This production shows what Shakespeare is — or can be — about. Very highly recommended.

Bianca : Marsha A. Hunt

Brabantio: Clive Swift

Cassio: Sean Baker

Desdemona: Imogen Stubbs

Duke of Venice: John Burgess

Emilia: Zoë Wanamaker

First Cyprus soldier: David Hounslow

First Othello soldier: David Hounslow

First senator: Brian Lawson

Gratiano: Clive Swift

Iago: Ian McKellen

Lodovico: John Burgess

Montano: Philip Sully

Musician: Jonathan Goldstein

Musician: Peter Rolinson

Othello: Willard White

Roderigo: Michael Grandage

Second Cyprus soldier: Brian Lawson

Second Othello soldier: Brian Lawson

Servant to the Senate: David Hounslow