Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hopkins vs. Hoskins

This week we watched the Anthony Hopkins/Bob Hoskins "Othello" as the latest in our BBC Shakespeare marathon. Bob Hoskins makes a sensational, giggling, Cockney Iago, delighting in the havoc he wreaks in the lives of Othello and "Desdemoner".

Anthony Hopkins has some terrific moments as Othello; his passionate outbursts, especially leading up to the epileptic fit, were particularly well-executed and riveting. (I'm sure director Jonathan Miller was able to offer some medical insight there!) But despite Othello uttering the phrase "I am black", Miller decided race was irrelevant to the story and that a "Moor" needn't really be all that dark. So while Hopkins is made up darker than normal — arguably darker than James Earl Jones (who was initially sought to play the role for the BBC) — he's nowhere near as dark as Olivier was in the role.

I don't have a problem with that choice, but unfortunately, when combined with his pale blue eyes and a wild wig, Hopkins's Othello looks decidedly weird, unlike any other human being I've ever seen walking the earth. He is also not especially imposing physically, and ultimately any effectiveness he achieves comes after he's first made you forget his essential unsuitedness for the role.

Likewise, Penelope Wilton hardly fits the typical mold for Desdemona, but she's a marvelous actress and quite moving. Rosemary Leach does wonderfully as Emilia, as well.

Overall, quite a powerful version, and not to be missed for Hoskins — the "only first-rate Iago" Harold Bloom says he's ever seen!

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