Based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Klein and helmed by Claire McCarthy, Ophelia is a visually rich reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Dramatised from the perspective of the titular Ophelia (Star Wars’s Daisy Ridley) – this time a lady in waiting to the queen (Naomi Watts) – the movie paints the tragic heroine as a stronger character with more agency than her Shakespearian counterpart. Taken in tandem with the Bard’s famous play, McCarthy’s screen adaptation delivers a subversive and strong feminist interpretation of the well-known tale of vengeance. But when examined in its own right, it lacks the drive to establish itself as anything memorable, thanks to lacklustre performances and an absence of narrative urgency.
One thing that is abundantly clear from the opening moments is that McCarthy – herself a visual artist – knows how to utilise cinematography to create breathtaking shots; this is especially evident when she deals with the outdoors. Each frame is perfectly lit and framed to subtly convey the scene’s tone, in a fashion that almost makes up for the lack of commitment from the characters on screen. The soundtrack, too, plays a large role in the film’s overall quality. The choral chants and playful strings that provide the bulk of the soundscape provide a large chunk of the viewing pleasure.
The film itself, however, is unfortunately unable to live up to the standards of its own presentation, primarily due to bland performances. Every character, aside from Clive Owen as slimy villain Claudius, stays on the same flat emotional level throughout the runtime. Ridley, especially, restrains herself to a very middle-of-the-road performance for a character who endures so much heartache. It’s possible this toned-down Ophelia was purposefully intended to make her seem stronger than the Ophelia driven to insanity and suicide, but it’s an almost herculean effort to care about someone’s trials when they barely care themself. Even Ridley’s restrained presence doesn’t compare to the emptiness George MacKay brings to his turn as the tragic prince.
McCarthy has created an undeniably stunning take on the classic. But underneath Ophelia’s glossy cover, there’s little substance to steer the film away from the middle of the road that it clings to so dearly.
Ophelia is released in select cinemas on 22nd November 2019.
Watch the trailer for Ophelia here: