To begin, I'll paraphrase French Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot who once said that "Nature is like a woman who enjoys disguising herself... those who study her and assiduously to hope that one day they may know the whole of her person." Femininity and nature, fictional revision with the feeling of alternate history, madness and witchcraft as mechanisms for disguise; Claire McCarthy's reveals Ophelia is an attempt to revise and reclaim a canonical and severely undercooked eponymous character from William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
When the motherless Ophelia, captures the attention of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) as a grubby child, she's taken into the Elsinore Castle to serve as a lady in waiting. When she comes of age, she captures the attention and affection of Prince Hamlet (George MacKay), and they strike up a secret relationship. When the King Hamlet is assassinated, his brother Claudius (Clive Owen) ascends the throne.
Ophelia isn't merely a revision of her character; it adds a proposed prelude to the events of Shakespeare's Hamlet that reframes all of the primary players. Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), thanks to the tinkering of a local witch Matilde medicates her stagnation with a deadening tonic - like a period riff on a rich housewife with an opioid addiction. Claudius (Clive Owen) is a cocksure cad, measuring his masculinity in his ability to negotiate women into his bed. No prize is as big as Queen Gertrude. Also, Clive Owen's wig is once again a reminder for me to shout out hairstylist Rita Parillo's great work from Last of the Mohicans and the first season of True Detective respectively.
Ophelia is the fierce, wily, inconspicuous maiden, able to operate with strange freedom. She navigates the opulent, gold-trimmed private spaces and the green of the thick forest surrounding the castles - that seem like they've been enhanced to capture the stillness of oil on canvas - with the same ease. Director McCarthy and cinematographer Denson Baker create a climate in the frame, often warming like chaste love. And blistering cold when fate reveals turns cruel.
Director McCarthy and writer Semi Chellas' Ophelia pivots most excitingly. It chooses to embrace and reframe other archetypal and negative portrayals of feminine and address them in turn; witches, witchcraft, the ability to bring a child to bear, the wilderness, status, courtship and perhaps above gendered madness.
Ophelia is the dutiful window with which we appraise the world. In Hamlet, her descent into madness is both in reaction to Hamlet and the toxicity of the Danish court. In Ophelia, she estimates Hamlet's use of madness as one of survival, removing the possible mutinous scent from those wielding power.
Daisy Ridley plays Ophelia, a vivacious, free spirit. She navigates her responsibilities and targets her moments to come up for air (literally) after the daze, perfume and status politics of court. Ridley portrays Ophelia with a chaste detachment. She thirsts for knowledge, free pursuits far more than she yearns to be in the clutches of Hamlet. Ridley, a conductor for sexual energy. In The Last Jedi, Adam Driver's Kylo Ren surges as their connection grows. George MacKay's Hamlet is drawn to her lack of compliance. She's attracted to him on her terms.
Naomi Watts relishes playing Gertrude, playing across the breadth of her talent. Tom Fenton's Laertes, like a lot of the principal characters in Hamlet, are relegated to the wings for this expansion of the Shakespeare cinematic universe. George Mackay's Hamlet is not one in command of his faculties but rather ensnared by the entitlement. It's a reliable performance; one meant to shrink to meet the scale of the film. Owen, besides the weird distraction on his head.
This is NOT Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. This isn't an absurdist "tragic-comedy" about seemingly inconsequential courtiers. McCarthy and Chellas' want to elevate Ophelia and demonstrate that the ripples of her life echo into the canonical. Unfortunately, hearty success feels shackled by always defining the eponymous protagonist by what she's not.
US Release Date(s): June 28th Theatrical – July 2nd Cable/Digital VOD
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.