Ophelia

In Cinemas Now

Daisy Ridley is the title character in this retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, told from Ophelia's perspective. Co-stars Naomi Watts as Gertrude.

"Something is rotten in medieval-era Denmark, where political intrigue swirls around the imperial court like dark magic. Amid it all, the queen’s brightest lady-in-waiting, Ophelia, finds herself drawn to Hamlet, the charismatic and elusive crown prince. As their secretive love affair takes flight, betrayal strikes the court, threatening to derail their union and devastate the royal family for good. Caught between her desires and her loyalty, Ophelia has to decide where her devotion will ultimately lie." (Sundance Film Festival)

Trailers

Directed by

Written by

  • Semi Chellas
  • (based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Klein)

Drama, Romance, Historical

106mins

Rating: M Violence

USA, UK

The notion of a fresh take on Shakespeare may conjure up visions of films like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, but rather than stuff Hamlet full of Hawaiian shirts, fringes and songs by The Cardigans et al, Ophelia’s twist is to place the titular female character at the centre of the story. It’s a simple idea, and while it is also one that’s been done before (perhaps most notably by New Zealand playwright Jean Betts in Ophelia Thinks Harder), it’s still interesting to see the perspective shift while setting, costume and cadence remain familiar.

Daisy Ridley brings Ophelia to life here, raising the (ok, probably unlikely) prospect of Shakespeare fandom now being torn into opposing camps as happened to Star Wars in the wake of The Last Jedi, thanks to the rantings of misogynist folk I can’t resist calling “key-Bard warriors”. Jedi springs to mind because here Ridley repeats her knack for seeming self-assured in a male-dominated environment, self-possessed even when the odds are against her and capable of anchoring this film with the strength of her performance.

Opposite Ridley, Naomi Watts is Queen Gertrude, who in the play recounts Ophelia’s death off-stage (spoiler alert - unsurprisingly Watts doesn't get to dismiss the lead character from this mortal coil with just a few lines here). Watts gets to have a bunch of fun, as well as demonstrate her acting chops by not corpsing every time she sees Clive Owen’s wig, which is a truly absurd sight to behold every time he’s on screen. Meanwhile, George McKay (Sunshine on Leith) ranges from ok to a bit annoying as Hamlet.

But back to Ophelia, and how the film enjoys toying with depictions seen before. These range from reinterpretations of events and motivations in the play to nods towards John Everett Millais’s 19th-century painting Ophelia. Millais’ Ophelia is depicted singing before drowning, as described by Gertrude, whereas early on in the film, we see she might just be fond of a swim (partially clothed in the water, this is where Ophelia has perhaps her best scene with Hamlet).

Ophelia may get a bit carried away shoehorning other Shakespeare plays in here and there, but overall there’s something refreshing about learning that the male-centric story we thought we knew may not be accurate after all—even while key events and beats remain in place. Buoyed by Ridley and Watts, it’s worth a watch even if not warranting an excessively enthusiastic recommendation.

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press

Ophelia comes off like awful Hamlet fanfiction.

Hollywood Reporter

press

This vigorous, colourful and clever melodrama smartly rethinks both the play and the character, making her a far more proactive figure than Shakespeare did in addition to entirely re-imagining her fate.

Screen International

press

This may be all well-and-good for a teenage fantasy, but devotees of Shakespeare's Ophelia should hope for a more distinguished retelling someday.

The Guardian

press

This film looks absolutely gorgeous, but apart from its production design it is basically a disaster.

The Times (UK)

press

Unfortunately, Ophilia fails to satisfy either curiosity, nether fleshing out the title character's backstory nor providing [Daisy] Ridley with a worthy vehicle for her talents.

Variety (USA)

press

That sound you hear is cordial applause, and the riffling of an audience paging through their high-school-English-class paperbacks to double-check the facts.

Vulture

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This is the ultimate female take-back-the-narrative movie, and frankly a lot of it is silly and sophomoric. But it's also juicy and fun...

Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)

press

It's just unfortunate that, despite a clever conceit, they can't deliver something truly compelling or, occasionally, even coherent.

NZ Herald (Francesca Rudkin)

press

While gorgeous to look at, Ophelia may have been better realised as an HBO television series.