Movie magic and thrilling female empowerment happen when Hamlet is told from the female perspective in Ophelia – a mostly brilliant re-imagining of Shakespeare’s tragic tale.
“You may think you know my story,” Ophelia says at the start of the movie. What then follows is an entertaining, romantic epic that is part Romeo and Juliet, part Ever After, part YA romance, and part Arthurian or Shakespearean tragedy with a feminist slant.
Based on the young adult retelling by Lisa Klein, director Claire McCarthy tells a new version of Ophelia. In this re-imagining, expect less madness and hysteria and instead more feminist triumph that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Ophelia, a young tomboy like Danielle in Ever After, catches the interest of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) and is then raised as one of her ladies-in-waiting. As Ophelia grows into a young woman (played by Daisy Ridley from Star Wars), she captures the interest of Prince Hamlet (George MacKay).
Soon, a forbidden star-crossed romance develops between the two as political corruption, war, and madness envelop the kingdom. When the King is murdered, the familiar tragic story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet unfolds – but in new intriguing ways.
I don’t want to give much away in my review of Ophelia, but in a fascinating twist, Naomi Watts plays dual roles as sisters (maybe even twin sisters). One, the queen, and the other an accused witch. It’s perhaps the most exciting change to the story.
Besides Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts, the all-star cast also includes Clive Owen as the wicked Claudius, George Mackay as the brooding Hamlet, Nathaniel Parker as the King, Tom Felton as Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, Dominic Mafham as Polonius, and Devon Terrell as Horatio.
Everyone fits their parts incredibly well – though Parker as the King is underused and only briefly onscreen. And while Ridley and Watts steal the movie with their standout performances, Devon Terrell as Horatio sneaks in to let everyone know he’s got charisma to spare. He’s a young star to put on your radar.
You may watch this historical romance asking yourself: Hamlet who?
Still, Naomi Watts arguably brings the most to the acting table, especially during the film’s climax. Without giving away spoilers, both of her characters give the ultimate cathartic moments during the violent tragic finale.
You’ll have to watch to see just how her dual characters make this movie a must-see.
Right from the start, the film’s visual style matches the look and feel of the famous 19th century Ophelia painting by John Everett Millais. Steeped in Romanticism and using the Pre-Raphaelite art form as an influence, the look of the film is impressive and beautiful to watch – though it could use a little more brightness. The art and set design, as well as the cinematography, all improve the quality of this indie film.
The costumes are also exquisite – though I’m not an expert in historical accuracy. Still, the colors and design are impressive and vivid.
On top of the production quality, the script is excellent (though a bit underdeveloped in parts), and Claire McCarthy’s vision as a director impresses. I’d like to see more films from her.
The best aspect of the Ophelia movie, however, is the musical score by Steven Price. It’s one of the finest soundtracks and scores I’ve heard in a while. Now, the chances of receiving Academy Award attention is slim to none, but truly this musical score deserves a nomination.
From the original ethereal music to the storytelling quality to the Hamlet-inspired lyrics, I was impressed. The film editors also deserve credit as the unique musical score is utilized as if the movie is a music video rather than a film. The final climax was edited to the emotional music perfectly.
Still, there are a few flaws. The madness could have been better developed in the film, for example. While Ophelia and Hamlet fake their madness, it’s not completely convincing. And Horatio’s character needed further exploration, as one wondered throughout if he had unrequited feelings for Ophelia.
At times, the period dialogue also felt a little too modern as if the screenwriter was stuck somewhere between Shakespeare and contemporary YA romance. That said, most of the time the dialogue was fine and it wasn’t unnatural or stilted.
Overall Review of Ophelia
Overall, Ophelia is a first-rate historical romance with a unique twist on a familiar story. The changes work surprisingly well. And while this is an imperfect film, it’s perfectly entertaining. So, if you enjoy fairy tale retellings or movies with female empowerment, then this is the movie to watch.
Where to Watch: You can currently (at the time of this review) watch Ophelia in select theaters. The movie is also available to rent On Demand.
Content Note: PG-13 for sensuality, sexual harassment, and violence.
What are your thoughts on this new retelling of Hamlet? Do you plan to watch Ophelia? Have you already seen it? Do you agree with my Ophelia review? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Photo Credit: IFC Films