Based on a novel by Lisa Klein, Ophelia is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic play, Hamlet, as told from the perspective of a secondary character. Ophelia is a very pro-feminist movie in a time where that sentiment is a very welcome one, especially in the entertainment industry. It examines the strengths and motivations of a woman living in a society ran by men who are driven by their greed, ambitions, and bloodlust. There are brilliant performances all around, but the film truly belongs to its lead actress, Daisy Ridley. Ridley plays the character of Ophelia with such depth and grace. Ophelia is written to be witty, sharp, intelligent, careful, and most important to how the story plays out she’s brutally cunning. Naomi Watts as Queen Gertrude is fantastic as well. Her character blasts past the trappings of being a surface level villain. She’s not completely evil, she has a kindness to her that is genuine, but her selfishness and a particularly nasty mean streak prevent her from being a paragon of righteousness. Watts also plays the role of The Witch, a character with an expanded upon backstory that is poetically tragic.
“There are brilliant performances all around, but the film truly belongs to its lead actress…”
As stated previously, this is basically Shakespeare’s Hamlet told from Ophelia’s point-of-view. We’re introduced to her as a precocious child who sort of stumbles into noble life as Queen Gertrude’s handmaiden while also garnering the attention of young Hamlet (played by George MacKay). She has certain advantages, for instance, her impoverished upbringing parallels the Queen’s and the two form a kinship over their similar histories. She’s also educated and can read in a time where that was very uncommon for women. She is very guarded and does not immediately fall for Prince Hamlet’s romantic advancements. She’s caught in the middle of tragedy when the King’s brother, Claudius (played by Clive Owens in a terrible wig) commits murder and assumed the throne with the help of Queen Gertrude. Owens plays an excellent villain. He’s terrifically evil and terrifyingly intimidating. Ophelia begs Hamlet to exercise caution and not let his hatred and rage get the best of him, but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Most of you who are familiar with the story of Hamlet have an idea of where this is going, but there are enough twists and clever deviations that set this apart from being another standard adaptation. It’s not radically different, per say, but there’s certainly enough here to shake things up.
“…there are enough twists and clever deviations that set this apart from being another standard adaptation.
Another thing that stands out about this movie is the cinematography, set design, and costumes. This film looks amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time. While the film has tremendous performances and is wonderfully pleasing to the eyes, it’s bogged down by horrendous soundtrack choices. There are these whispery pop songs that feel unbelievably out of place. I found myself rolling my eyes at these choices. It’s a shame because everything else in this film is so marvelously solid. Ophelia is an amazing movie that puts a positive feminist spin on a very familiar story. I’d love to see more classic stories retold from a female perspective like this one, written by women and directed by women. I hope this film finds its success and we see more like it in the coming years.
Ophelia (2018) Directed by: Claire McCarthy. Written by: Semi Chellas, Lisa Klein. Starring: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owens, Tom Felton, George MacKay, Devon Terrell, Dominic Mafham. Ophelia played as part of the Premieres competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
8 out of 10