After a year of intense media speculation and a few uninspiring films, UK actor Robert Pattinson has returned to the big screen in a big way with a much-hyped adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello. The film stars Pattinson alongside established British actors including Michael Caine, Judi Dench and Tracy Letts. The story centres around a supposed murder-suicide in Venice, in which the title character supposedly kills his wife, mistaking her for a supposed lover. As with most Shakespeare adaptations, the setting is modernised to explore the themes of jealousy and mistaken identity, but the story draws on historical fact.

Pattinson’s detractors will no doubt seize on his latest film, castigating everything from its apparently pale imitation of the works of the Bard to its star’s overuse of make-up and questionable fashion choices. It is fair to say that the 32-year-old actor hasn’t quite lived up to the immense popularity that his Twilight character developed amongst teenage girls around the world. However, he has continued to work hard, and the Academy Award-nominated actor is now firmly ensconced in the upper echelons of Hollywood celebrities.

The Daily Mail splashed on headlines such as ‘Is This The Most Boring Film Of All Time?’ and ‘How Twilight Changed Our Idea Of Romance’, while fans flocked to social media to find clues as to the identity of the film’s villain.

Pattinson has been open about his love for Shakespeare, having studied the playwright extensively and even starred in a stage production of Othello in 2012. He told The Sunday Telegraph in 2016 that he considers the works of William Shakespeare to be his greatest influence.

“I would say William Shakespeare is probably my greatest influence. I’ve always loved his work, from when I was a kid, and I’ve always found his words really resonant. They’re such great examples of the English language. It’s incredible to think that he wrote almost 400 years ago, and his words still ring true today,” he said.

The actor’s latest film is certainly a fascinating adaptation that will no doubt entertain audiences of all ages. Moreover, it is interesting to see how the themes that Shakespeare wrote about so long ago still hold true today. It is perhaps a comment on the timelessness of the Bard’s work that even as a movie, Othello still feels contemporary.

The Evolution Of Romantic Attitudes

The difference between Shakespeare’s Othello and later adaptations such as Michael Haneke’s 2009 film The White Ribbon or the 2016 TV series Wolf Hall, in which Henry VIII is the main villain, is that Haneke and the TV company retain a modicum of respect by not entirely ripping the Shakespeare adaptation off. Haneke has said that he wanted to avoid creating a “Disney movie” and instead offer a faithful adaptation.

This makes the difference in quality between the two films clear: while Haneke and his team have tried to stay true to the original text, the Hollywood version has clearly taken a bit of a gamble, going for a complete reimagining that panders to a lucrative audience.

That said, there still remain significant differences in the way that Haneke and Shakespeare’s Othello approach love and relationships. The 2009 film adapts Othello as a tale of two brothers, one of whom turns out to be a serial killer. It is heavily implied that the older brother is the true villain of the piece. Here, too, the TV show Wolf Hall, in which Thomas Cromwell is the main protagonist, owes a significant debt to Shakespeare’s play, being heavily based on it. As with most Shakespeare adaptations, there is an emphasis on class tensions and the moral dilemma that ensues when a man of means believes that a woman is deceiving him.

Like Michael Haneke, Robert Pattinson also evokes class tensions in Othello. However, in his version, these are more explicitly embodied by the character of Iago (not the character of Antonio, as in Haneke’s adaptation), the villainous and devious lead of which is played by Javier Bardem. As the character’s name suggests, Iago embodies the “I-ag-o-ny” school of thought – the premise that a man can never be sure of a woman’s loyalties or sincerity, and that it is always best to distrust and avoid intimacy with women. This is made explicit in a conversation that Iago has with Othello in which he says: “I think it is not amiss to mistrust a woman, when we are not sure whether she is playing us a trick or no.”

As in Haneke’s and the TV show’s adaptations, there is also a significant amount of make-up involved in Robert Pattinson’s Othello. Here, too, the classically trained actor clearly admires the style of classic Hollywood cinema, frequently appearing in and directing high-fashion commercials for luxury brands. Nevertheless, the actor has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and he has previously stated that he wants to expand his repertoire, appearing in more experimental and original works as a way of showing that he is not just another pretty face.

Pattinson has previously starred in some high-profile movies, such as the 2005 film Darling, the 2012 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Girl With The Golden Eyes, and the 2014 film Dancing With The Devil (although the latter two are now mostly forgotten). However, he made his name playing the vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight movie franchise, which became a pop culture phenomenon, earning Pattinson an estimated $27 million in just under a year. It should thus come as no great surprise that one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stars chose to tackle one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies. Not that it was easy: the pressure to live up to Hollywood’s image of a blood-sucking vampire was quite considerable, and the franchise’s director, Bill Condon, has said that the pressure became physically straining. Like Michael Haneke, the director has tried to remain faithful to the text, while also staying true to the character’s 17th century Venetian setting.

It is interesting to note that a year after the release of Twilight, Pattinson was named the second most admired actor among UK millennials (aged 18-34) – a coveted position that saw him edge out competition such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench and Richard Simmons.

Hopkins, Dench and Simmons are all highly respected actors who have played some of Shakespeare’s leading roles. Yet even now, a year after the last Twilight movie was released, the franchise’s popularity remains unrivaled. Its star not only continues to score major movie roles, but he also regularly turns up at UK film festivals and events, frequently signing copies of his Twilight books and posing for photos with devoted fans. In terms of box office receipts alone, the Twilight movie franchise has made more than $23 billion worldwide, while the entire Harry Potter film series – which stars Hopkins as the titular character – has made a mere $25.7 billion. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, Pattinson joked: “I have an agent now; I wouldn’t say no to a management role either.” So, it would appear that the actor’s latest role might very well be his last. After all, what is an actor’s next big role, once his or her big break has gone? A celebrity lifestyle coach role potentially involving face-to-face counselling with some of Hollywood’s more high-profile stars? A part in a religious epic where he teaches the faithful to pray properly? A voice-over for an animated film? Or perhaps an iconic character such as John Wayne, Marlon Brando or Elizabeth Taylor in a yet-to-be-made vintage film? Whatever the role, it is quite clear that once the cameras stop rolling, Robert Pattinson will have quite a lot to say – and this time, we might just listen.