Ophelia (3 stars)

Ophelia

Hamlet's ill-fated lover takes centre stage in this bold reimagining from Claire McCarthy

'It's high time I should tell you my story myself,' says Ophelia in voiceover at the beginning of Australian director Claire McCarthy's bold reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet, which wrests the focus away from its traditional male protagonist and places it firmly on his ill-fated lover. It's a daring move and, while it never quite escapes the soft-focus YA roots of Lisa Klein's source novel, McCarthy breathes vigorous new life into an age-old tale.

As confidently played by Star Wars's Daisy Ridley, this Ophelia is intelligent, head-strong and unwilling to bow to either the posturing men who surround her at court, or the conventions of the day. Neither archaic nor too knowingly modern, she is tenacious enough to navigate her way through the political furore surrounding the death of the king and the immediate marriage of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts who, cleverly, also plays the woodland crone Mechtild) to her brother-in-law Claudius (a deliciously malevolent Clive Owen). And, while she may fall for George MacKay's dashing, revenge-fuelled Hamlet, Ophelia certainly isn't one to lose her senses.

Performances are strong across the board, and reframing key sequences from Ophelia's point-of-view gives a whole new perspective on this familiar narrative. A particular standout is the scene in which the character goes 'mad' – a performance that's more cunning than crazy.

As befits the Bard, production values are sumptuous. Cinematography from Denson Baker luxuriates in the exquisite details of the court, then skulks into dark corners as murderous intrigue consumes the story. The scene in which Hamlet's band of players re-enact his father's murder is a creepy, artistic sequence of shadow play that combines folklorish nightmare with real-world horrors.

Particular praise should be given to the evocative score by Steven Price (an Oscar-winner for his work on Gravity), which blends both the ancient and the modern and, as both celebration and lament, deftly underscores this vibrant new portrait of Ophelia. 'I was always a wilful girl,' she herself notes, and it's certainly a thrill to see her striding defiantly to the centre of the stage after spending so long in the wings.

Limited release from Fri 22 Nov.

Ophelia

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • UK, USA
  • 1h 54min
  • Directed by: Claire McCarthy
  • Cast: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Tom Felton
  • UK release: 22 November 2019

Ophelia (Ridley) is an intelligent and head-strong young woman negotiating the furore surrounding the death of the kind and the marriage of Gertrude (Watts) to her brother-in-law Claudius (Owen). It never quite escapes its soft-focus YA roots, but clever casting and an alternative point of view puts a vibrant new spin on…

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