This article was originally published on Film Threat (November 1, 2018).
Ophelia is a female-driven re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which instills strength and hope into the despairing ingenue that has spawned countless melancholic portrayals in various forms of art. The film, based on Lisa Klein’s young adult novel, opens with Ophelia’s (Daisy Ridley) iconic suicide – the beautiful young lovelorn maiden submerged in the water, surrounded by flowers. This is where she meets her untimely end, but now we will come to understand what truly led her to make this daring and desperate decision.
As a young girl, Ophelia already had an edge over other members of the fairer sex. Her brother Laertes (Tom Felton) would return from his lessons and secretly teach his little sister everything he had learned. In a time when women were not permitted in the library, Ophelia knew how to read. Throughout the narrative, she is observant and clever. She remains obedient but does not betray her loyalties and morals to be simply submissive. Seeing the world through her eyes offers a new take on what happened behind the palace walls and beyond.
“…a female-driven re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which instills strength and hope into the despairing ingenue…”
Even if your memory of Hamlet is a bit fuzzy, there are echoes of Shakespeare’s text trickled throughout Claire McCarthy’s film. Moments that sound familiar, although they are not identical to the original. Part of me wishes the bard’s lines were recited exactly to offer a stark contrast to Ophelia’s perspective. However, I can understand how doing that would also pull the viewer out of the scene by changing the nature of the dialogue. Regardless of the verbiage, the characters’ intentions remain the same – for the most part.
Despite Clive Owens’ charm and charisma, Claudius is still a despicable villain who deserves his comeuppance. In line with the feminist twist, Naomi Watts’ neglected, cunning and resilient Gertrude springs into action in light of various epiphanies. George MacKay’s conflicted Hamlet is not the perplexing madman we’ve grown accustomed to. He is sensitive, brash and unrelentingly pursues Ophelia. There is no doubt that he loves her, but he is forced to reconcile his feelings for her with the vengeance he seeks.
“…I enjoy watching the romance unfold between Hamlet and Ophelia…”
Ophelia is indeed a retelling. New female characters are added, causing this well-known tale to take unexpected turns. Some hardcore Shakespeare buffs might scoff at the poetic licenses taken, but I enjoy watching the romance unfold between Hamlet and Ophelia, relish in the way a young woman recognizes her own strength and admire how she stays true to herself. For a woman whose name means “help,” in ancient Greek, it is empowering and satisfying to see her overcome adversity and break free of the societal shackles placed upon her.
This Ophelia is far from mad and helpless. Semi Chellas’s adaptation inspires and entertains. You will be wowed by the refreshing twists that update this male-centric saga and give women the credit they deserve.
Ophelia (2018) Directed by Claire McCarthy. Written by Semi Chellas. Starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, Tom Felton, George MacKay, Dominic Mafham, Devon Terrell.
8 out of 10 stars