OPHELIA – People Messing with The Bard

William Shakespeare, AKA The Bard, is a master storyteller that has created multiple works of genius that have inspired movies, books, plays, you name it, since he first put quill to parchment. His work is legend and every person in the English speaking world will most likely know who he is. He wrote this little play called HAMLET – it has had multiple movies made from the story and I have seen it onstage multiple times in my life. Ophelia is Hamlet’s love – when Hamlet accidentally kills Ophelia’s father, Polonious, Ophelia goes mad, and eventually (allegedly) suicides.

This reimagining tells a very different story to the Bard’s.

OPHELIA is out today, August 1st 2019, in Australia from Madman Films. It is rated M and runs for 114mins.

Daisy Ridley as Ophelia in OPHELIA
Daisy Ridley as Ophelia

BY JASON KING

OPHELIA SYNOPSIS:

Based on the award-winning novel by Lisa Klein, OPHELIA is a dynamic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet told from an unexpected point of view. Set in the 14th century but spoken in a contemporary voice, Ophelia takes center stage in the untold story of her tragic romance with Hamlet and her relationship with his mother, Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts). A wild and motherless child, Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) is taken into Elsinore Castle under the wing of Queen Gertrude and becomes her most trusted lady-in-waiting.

Growing into a beautiful and intelligent young woman, she soon captures the attention of the handsome Prince Hamlet (George MacKay). While she learns the ways of power and plotting in court, an undeniable love between Ophelia and the Prince blossoms in secret. As war brews with a neighboring kingdom, lust and betrayal are tearing Elsinore apart from within – the King has been murdered, driving Prince Hamlet into a downward spiral of vengeful torment. Ophelia must decide between her true love or her own life and devises a plan to escape Elsinore forever, in order to protect a very dangerous secret. 

Daisy Ridley as Ophelia and George McKay as Hamlet in OPHELIA
Daisy Ridley as Ophelia and George McKay as Hamlet

GREAT IN THEORY BUT MOSTLY AN INSULT TO THE BARD IN PRACTICE:

There is so much I love about this movie and so much I despise. To me Shakespeare is a god and to majorly re-write his work is sacrilege.

OPHELIA is an exceptionally stunning movie to look at. Cinematography from Denson Baker (AMERICAN SUMMER) is a work of art matched beautifully with a haunting score from Steven Price (GRAVITY, BABY DRIVER) makes the film design an artistic story award worthy. It basically saved the film from being a tragedy (not the Shakespeare kind).

I will speak on the cast later but it is good with what it has to work with. But the failure for me is the greatly altered storyline and the arrogance of ending with talk of Hamlet and then “this is my story,” but it isn’t – it’s an altered story from someone else and it’s all changed and it rubbed me the wrong way because it messed with what I know (or more can remember) of Shakespeare canon. It’s like a new Star Wars movie from Darth Vader’s perspective where he never died and is raising alpacas on Tatooine because he was never bad. Nope – not for me.

But OPHELIA tore me because the acting is so good and the famed interactions are there, they just aren’t ideally told. I found more interest in remembering HAMLET while I watched than in what I was viewing. I needed more!

Daisy Ridley as Ophelia and George McKay as Hamlet in OPHELIA
Daisy Ridley as Ophelia and George McKay as Hamlet

MOSTLY WONDERFUL CASTING:

The casting is mostly wonderful, the film released in 2018 throughout Europe and released in the USA on June 28th 2019. I can only find a listing stating this $12MIL budget film pulled in $50k in the USA? Ouch!!

Daisy Ridley was fantastic without a lightsaber, I can watch her in anything. She is quite a strong actor and her character is quite stronger in personality than I imagined for Ophelia, but this story is about a new and modern Ophelia who is over the bullshit of the castle and plans to leave it all behind. If only they fleshed it out a little better.

George MacKay was the clear standout as Hamlet. I love MacKay, one of my favourite new generation actors. If you don’t know who he is I urge you to watch PRIDE, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE and SUNSHINE ON LEITH. All wonderful films, another let down in OPHELIA is we see less of George MacKay than we deserved. Hamlet’s declining sanity is key, it is something poorly washed over as pretend intent in OPHELIA, something that had this critic shaking his head in disbelief.

Naomi Watts plays dual roles, both admirably. What I would absolutely adore to see onscreen is the story of Mechtild, the witch who helps bring down the kingdom. I preferred Witch Watts to Queen Watts – the queen was unfaithful and bordered on insanity like everyone else. The witch was intelligent and powerful and had a torn mind controlled by herself.

Tom Felton and Devon Terrell were both marvellous in their respective Laertes and Horatio roles and I would have appreciated more screen time with both. Then there was Clive Owen – I usually enjoy him but found him poorly cast in OPHELIA.

Naomi Watts as Gertrude and Clive Owen as Claudius in OPHELIA
Naomi Watts as Gertrude and Clive Owen as Claudius

IN CONCLUSION:

OPHELIA is beautiful to view with wonderful cinematography, superb score, and a great cast of performers but the story just doesn’t work for me and I would have preferred it stuck a lot closer to the Shakespeare story without altering so much of Bard Canon.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.