Magazine article Screen International

'Ophelia': Sundance Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Ophelia': Sundance Review

Article excerpt

Daisy Ridley and George McKay replay Hamlet as a feminist manifesto for director Claire McCarthy

Dir. Claire McCarthy. UK. 2018. 114 min

The time seems nigh for a feminist adaptation of Hamlet. And this sweeping period romance from Australian director Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City) will do for now. Starring Daisy Ridley (Star Wars) as the titular heroine, along with Naomi Watts as Gertude, George MacKay as Hamlet, and Clive Owen as Claudius, Ophelia envisions Shakespeare’s classic tragedy as a tale of star-crossed lovers and female empowerment all rolled into one,

More Shakespeare In Love than Shakespeare-a guilty pleasure and glossy production

Fans of The Bard’s original text may balk at the changes, and some of the narrative additions stretch further than feels comfortable, but there is a “method to [their] madness,” as Ophelia’s father once put it, allowing Ophelia a good deal of agency and a more integral role in the story’s central political and familial conflicts. Spoiler alert: it is Ophelia who first discovers that Claudius has killed the King! But you’d never guess how.

Driven by its timely revisionism and A-list cast, Ophelia should make for a much-talked about commodity, which could yield significant global box-office and ancillary sales, despite some general ludicrousness to the proceedings.

Based on a YA novel by Lisa Klein, Ophelia maps out a very different arc for the heroine than jilted lover goes mad and kills herself. Here, Ophelia is a headstrong young woman, who despite her non-royal class, rises through the ranks of the court to become Queen Gertrude’s most trusted lady in waiting. One day, while swimming in a river near the castle, Ophelia meets Prince Hamlet with his friend Horatio, who are back home from their studies abroad. Immediately, there are flirtations and some clever puns about fishing.

Ophelia also becomes a close witness to the rising tension between Hamlet and his Uncle Claudius as well Claudius’s amorous interest in Gertrude.

In this first half of the film, it’s easy to see the main challenge of adapting the story of Hamlet to Ophelia’s perspective: she is not so much an active participant as a passive observer of the rotten goings-on in the state of Denmark. How do the storytellers preserve the through-line of the central plot-Hamlet’s desire for Oedipal and political vengeance, which is tangential to Ophelia-and still make her the centre of the story? …

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