Written by Semi Chellas and directed by Claire McCarthy
Starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts and Tom Felton
Running time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for a scene of violence/bloody images, some sensuality, and thematic elements
by Emily Maesar
Listen. One day I’ll figure out if Daisy Ridley is a good actress outside of a giant franchise. I think she probably is, but Ophelia is another entry in her live-action filmography where the script gives her basically nothing to do. Not that the film gives anyone anything to do. I’d wager Clive Owen is in less than 20 minutes of the film, despite being the main antagonist…I guess? Naomi Watts is doing double duty, but who knows what either of her characters actually want. Honestly, It’s completely deranged.
But here’s a thing: I was in theatre in high school. I’m only a medium Shakespeare head, but you have to be able to talk the talk if you want to be taken seriously. So, I have my favorites, but I recognize that saying Bill’s best play is a history about the murder of a Roman Emperor is…a choice.
I know that Hamlet is the number one, absolute GOAT Willy Shakespeare play. The ghost of a dead king, a very emo prince who hates his step-dad/uncle, and a tragic love interest? It’s every scholar’s thesis and every goth’s dream. So, here’s Ophelia. It’s Hamlet, from the point of view of the tragic love interest. Which could be cool.
It’s not…but it could be.
We see Ophelia as a child for about two seconds, before jump cutting straight to Daisy Ridley because that’s what they thought we were here for. I guess they were technically right, but the result leaves much to be desired. Hamlet comes back from school and their tragic love story starts, with a few detail changes. That’s the beginning of one of the main problems, though.
The pacing of this film is so completely off kilter. Sometimes it hovers around a moment, like Hamlet inadvertently hurting his mother's feelings because he says the goddess Diana looks old in a tapestry done in her likeness. Sometimes it zooms past the actual plot of Hamlet in short bursts, before getting back to the “new” stuff. More often than not, though, it’s just boring. Like, even the single sex scene is a complete yawn.
Here’s another thing: I want so desperately to relate Ophelia to any other Shakespeare adaptation, to give it a comparison point for people — but the modern ones are too much fun, and the others are just straight versions of the plays. The closest comparison might be Ever After. Even then, it’s not quite right - Cinderella is, after all, always from her point of view, but it just seems the most apt. It adheres to the basic plot, takes liberties with the details of the story in between, and ends with a plan actualized, helping the protagonist exactly as she’d hoped. The difference is that Ever After is fun the whole way through. Drew Barrymore gets to…I dunno, actually be an active part of her story.
And there’s the other big issue. Ophelia is the protagonist, but I’ve literally never seen a film where the lead just stood around watching stuff happen for this fucking long. She is remarkably inactive for the majority of the film, allowing everything to happen to her.
At one point Polonius tells his daughter that she’s a, “very bad girl, to be so good.” First of all…YIKES. Second of all, this is an unearned characterization. Characters are always telling us that Ophelia is “wild, and full of desire,” but there’s nothing in the text of the film to support that reading. Once a slightly spunky girl, she becomes a meek and love-sick young woman.
In fact, It’s only in the last 15 minutes of the film when she takes control of her situation and makes active choices. And let me tell you, that’s when I like my movies to actually get interesting: half-way through the last act.
The idea behind Ophelia is a good one, but the film doesn’t realize it in a way that works. It’s also confusing in the parts where stuff actually happens — which is not great. They make this choice (which may very well be from the plot of the novel) to have Ophelia be this weird Shakespeare cinematic universe. But instead of many films that come together, Avengers-style, they just made it a mashup with random bits belonging to other stories. There’s a forest witch, who is the queen’s sister (a very confusing and NOT explained at all plot point), and the fake-death poison from Romeo and Juliet.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears: this film is buck-ass wild.
Ultimately, you can take Ophelia out of the plot of this film and Hamlet still happens. Any moments Ophelia herself ushers in, including a very long exposition whisper scene while the villain watches, could be done by any other character. I wish like mad that the film had earned its solid ending, because that’s the part of the movie I actually liked.