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Othello      TV 14, L, S, V
One 2-hour episode
Airing Sunday, January 2, 2005, on PBS
(Check local listings.)

Aired previously January 2002

A 21st-century interpretation, written by Andrew Davies (Take a Girl Like You, Wives and Daughters) and based on the tragedy by William Shakespeare, this Othello has all the corruption, intrigue, sex, and betrayal of the original, translated to a completely convincing modern setting: New Scotland Yard in the era of race riots, neo-Nazis, and political spin.

Eamonn Walker (HBO's Oz) plays the title role of John Othello, the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in a London seething with racial tension and unrest. Christopher Eccleston (Elizabeth) is the duplicitous Ben Jago, an angry man overlooked for promotion in place of his best friend and protégé. Keeley Hawes (Wives and Daughters) is Dessie, Othello's wife and true love.

Those familiar with Shakespeare's original will recognize Davies's updated versions of Othello the Moor, his wife Desdemona, and the arch villain Iago. But this new version takes its cues not only from the Bard but from the notorious real-life case dramatized on Masterpiece Theatre's gritty docudrama The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (airdate January 21, 2002), which examines the 1993 killing of a black teenager in London and the ensuing botched police investigation that led to charges of institutional racism.

Jo Wright, controller of drama at London Weekend Television, said of Davies's adaptation: "The basic story of Othello remains. But the speech is modern throughout -- although Andrew has been very clever, and people who know the play well will recognize parts of some of the major speeches. He wanted to do Othello because he felt it had the most resonance in the multicultural society we live in now. The themes are universal, but it also works on other levels. We can bring Shakespeare to younger audiences in a way which may encourage people to go back to the play, and at the same time it is a cracking good yarn. It is still basically a thriller which contains sexual jealousy, betrayal, revenge, and murder."


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