IFC FILMS (2019)
Director: Claire McCarthy
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, George MacKay, Tom Felton, Devon Terrell
To be or not to be.
That is not the question asked here. In fact, there are no questions, just statements. Ophelia takes the well-known Shakespearian tale of Hamlet and tells it through the eyes of Ophelia herself – a lower-class lady-in-waiting and owner of Hamlet’s love. The accepted story has Ophelia going insane and drowning herself in a lake, but an early narration from Daisy Ridley’s titular lead tells us otherwise.
The opening shot of Ophelia is, in fact, the final moments of Hamlet showing Ophelia’s lifeless body floating on a lake (presumably having just gone mad) but here we are told this isn’t actually what happened. No, Ophelia wasn’t a weak-willed ‘yes lady’, she was strong, rebellious and willing to do whatever it took for her independence and ability to her live a free life. Claire McCarthy doesn’t just serve up a timely those of girl power of #MeToo pandering, instead, the writing (based on Lisa Klein’s Ophelia) portrays Ophelia as intelligent yet flawed – which could probably be said for the movie as well. This is a good movie but, at times, has a tendency to meander somewhat or stray too far from the better parts of the narrative.
This new story is well-crafted and it’s refreshing to see another take on the Bard’s work. Though there is an inescapable stuffiness to the movie, the shake-up works just fine. There’s an empowering quality throughout without feeling like it’s too much – McCarthy utilises a self-assured restraint and knows when to go bigger when the story required. Daisy Ridley is confident and excels in her first major leading role and Naomi Watts too is very strong alongside her as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother who happens to be Queen (Watts also plays the smaller role of a mysterious witch that provides Gertrude with potions to keep her young). Speaking of Hamlet, George MacKay is solid in the now supporting role but makes for a good main man. The rest of the cast aren’t afforded as much time, Tom Felton dips in and out and Clive Owen seems miscast as the devious and dastardly Claudius – the man who murdered Hamlet’s father to take the crown. However…however…whoever decided it was a good costume choice to allow him to wear that wig needs to take a long hard look at themselves.
What Ophelia absolutely nails are the visuals. This is probably/definitely the most beautiful looking movie I have seen all year. The idyllic, bucolic beauty of the natural outdoors is captured so splendidly by DoP Denson Baker – capitalising on the stunning landscapes and lighting as well as providing some excellent character framing too (the costume design is excellent, also) and it all comes together to create a real feast for the eyes. The backgrounds and locations all hint to Ophelia’s apparent fate, but it’s all presented so magnificently. If you listen closely, you’ll swear you can hear Rey’s Theme hidden in the main theme too…
When all is said and done, Ophelia doesn’t necessarily tear up any trees, instead, it delivers a solid, feminist reimagining of a well-trodden tale and also showcases Daisy Ridley’s star power. It’s a very decent story that may be the most beautiful looking movie I’ve seen this year.
July 7th 2019