THREE STARS Murder, mayhem and madness. No one is safe in Denmark, least of all Hamlet's wife.
Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts
PERIOD DRAMA #OPHELIA
If you took Shakespeare’s Hamlet, told the story from his girlfriend’s point of view, upped the feminist angle, threw in riffs from Romeo + Juliet while inventing some other scenes altogether (a secret marriage and Queen Gertrude’s witchy twin sister for instance), and you’ve a good idea of what you’re in for this energetic reimagining of one of the Bard’s most beloved tragedies.
Australia’s Claire McCarthy (THE WAITING CITY) directs a mostly successful script by Semi Chellas from Lisa Klein’s novel. What the end result lacks in self-assurance (too often OPHELIA veers into the banal, the melodramatic or fails to convince with characters relying on our fondness for the source material to do the heavy lifting), it makes up for in inventive spirit and pluck. For every blustery scene in which Clive Owen chews all the furniture as Hamlet’s uncle-cum-step-father there’s the furniture itself - McCarthy’s set-designers have had a blast creating Denmark in the Czech republic. The result is as boisterous as it is fun - albino peacock’s anyone?
But the real point of tweaking any Shakespearian script is finding something new to say. It’s a promise Ophelia makes in the opening scene, and in getting to tell hers, rather than Hamlets’, version of events, STAR WARS’ Daisy Ridley does an admirable job until her character is sidelined in her own story. It doesn’t lessen the experience necessarily, but once the boys led by George McKay (and Naomi Watts' Queen Gertrude to be fair) start comparing the size of their swords, it does dilute the feminism of this would-be feminist yarn. Again, Chellas and McCarthy turn back to the source as minds are lost, blood is let and people die.
So while OPHELIA does not stand among the great Shakespearian reimaginings (it’s certainly not in there with McKellan’s Nazi-fied RICHARD III or SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE for that matter), it does have a broad if over-heated appeal. Excessive scrutiny will do you no favours, but if you’re in the mood for period drama that tries harder than most, you could do worse.