Synopsis: A twist on Hamlet: Ophelia’s point-of-view
Director Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia, based on the book by Lisa Klein, opens at the end of Ophelia’s life. Played by Daisy Ridley (so good as Rey in Star Wars), we see Ophelia floating faceup in the water, flowers drifting around her, much as she is depicted in the John Everett Millard ‘Ophelia’ painting. A sad ending for Hamlet’s girlfriend.
One can never get too much of Shakespeare, especially in its original form with period costume and Shakespeare’s beautiful, magical prose and verse– preferably in a summer park setting. Modernizations abound: 2000’s Hamlet, is set in present-day NYC and stars Ethan Hawke who plays the Danish prince with the mien of a trust fund baby NYU film student… Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles reinvent ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ as 10 Things I Hate About You, moving the action to a Seattle high school with modern American English dialogue, etc… Some authors have tossed aside the main characters to give minor ones the spotlight, as in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Ophelia adds to the subgenre, telling the story you don’t know. Hamlet’s girlfriend takes center stage and you know that she will be feisty and empowered because this is 2019 IRL. So to refresh your memory…
‘Hamlet,’ written circa 1600, is the seminal psychological dissection of the Emo mind. Hamlet is the story of a privileged guy who is still at university even though he is like, thirty years old. He hates his stepdad, Claudius, and is angry at his mom for marrying him because he is his uncle. Also maybe his stepdad killed his dad, the King of Denmark. He mopes and rails while figuring out his revenge plan. He also bromances Horatio, talks to a skull and alternately romances and berates Ophelia. She is portrayed as a tragic lovesick creature, but novelist Lisa Klein had other plans for Ophelia.
Be advised: familiarity with cinematic Shakespeare adaptations and fairy tales featuring “teens” is helpful, but not necessary.
Daisy Ridley’s Ophelia spends her days as a lady in waiting to Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), Hamlet’s mom. She gathers flowers, reads bedtime erotica to the Queen and dodges mean girls (much like plucky Anne Hathaway in Ella Enchanted). Daisy dons a resplendent hip-length, fiery red wig and the same modestly cut peacock teal gown everyday. She wears flowers in her hair instead of jewels about which the mean girls snigger.
When Hamlet (George MacKay) returns from uni after his father’s death he spends his days bi-polaring around the castle. He fights with his stepdad, the new king (a scenery chewing Clive Owen) and flings himself into Ophelia’s path to kiss her. An earlier scene established that Hamlet likes Ophelia when we see them trading quips as she swims in a stagnant pond while he and Horatio frolic ashore.
So, I liked the costume design by Massimo Parrini, what with the women’s gowns in Gustav Klimt-esque prints and the men in Game of Thrones casual wear. But George MacKay’s Hamlet really needed to be decked out like the emo he is: skate shoes, skinny jeans, wristbands and dark hoodie with hood up. Of course. He does, however, really rock the guyliner which gets heavier and heavier as the plot thickens; picture Billy Joe Armstrong (early Green Day), followed by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stanger Tides.
Ophelia lets us in on some particulars about the Queen, namely that she is a middle-aged party girl. Early on in the film, she is inadvertently age-shamed which leads her to make out with her icky brother-in-law who has ratty Rumpelstiltskin hair. She also routinely sends Ophelia– swathed in a cardinal red hooded cloak just like Amanda Seyfried in Red Riding Hood– to a witch in the woods for her “prescription.” Ophelia tromps onto the woods to the witch’s hovel and picks up the Molly-Botox potion that revives her majesty.
The King and Queen throw lots of inter-generational raves that look like they were put together by Baz Luhrmann — are you among the partiers Leo DiCaprio & Clare Danes aka Romeo & Juliet? The booze flows and the guests dance and carouse, but sadly for Hamlet the deejay doesn’t play Panic! at the Disco or Joyce Manor.
Draco Malfoy does show up. Is Hogwarts nearby? No, Tom Felton is Ophelia’s brother, Laertes. When Hamlet isn’t confronting his stepdad at the parties he is kissing Ophelia and fervently whispering to her. George M. makes Hamlet passionate and fetching. So, why, oh why, does Daisy R. play Ophelia with a perpetually perplexed face and unyielding body? I envisioned a hotblooded and unhinged Ophelia brought to life by the brilliant Florence Pugh (Lady MacBeth and The Little Drummer Girl.) She’d surely bring enough heat to melt Hamlet’s guyliner.
As I alluded to earlier, this Ophelia is no simpering wallflower. She is a good eavesdropper and craftily deduces what’s rotten in Denmark. But, like everyone, she has her off days. We do see her go mad. She skips into the king and queen’s crowded brunch, dispensing flowers and giggling. We are certain that she is well and truly mad when she twirls around in a big nightgown singing tra-la-la.
I can’t tell you any more because there are twists and deviations that you will want to see for yourself. Also, it is time for me to gather flowers and crash brunch down the street. Just like Ophelia.
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Grade: C +
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