Ophelia (2019) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

This re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells the events of the Prince of Denmark from the perspective of its tragic heroine, and in so doing, makes the decisive, powerful women the backbone of the story.

Born a grubby commoner with a taste for learning and roaming the woodland paths, Ophelia’s sharp tongue and courage soon catches the eye of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts). She is scrubbed down, her hair brushed out, and appointed as a lady in waiting at court. Years later, her low birth continues to make Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) an outcast among the nobility, but does nothing to distract Prince Hamlet (George MacKay) from her. Ambiguous as to his amorous attentions, Ophelia is soon caught up in diabolical events surrounding the throne.

The king’s ambitious brother, Claudius (Clive Owen), has his eye on Gertrude… and when the king perishes by a snakebite, Ophelia has her suspicions all is not as innocent as it appears, leading her down a dangerous path that unravels into murder and madness.

An engaging and entertaining film, Ophelia boasts beautiful costumes, a surprising but haunting scores, and female characters more memorable than their male counterparts. Claudius may be wrathful and paranoid, but Gertrude is kind and cruel, bullied and independent. Ophelia knows her own mind, as little as Hamlet knows his. And a new character, a witch in the woods, lends further eeriness to a plot already mired in eventual turmoil. Ridley gives a powerful performance, perhaps only matched by Watts, whose Gertrude strangely winds up the most interesting, troubled figure in the film – and in some ways, the most heroic. The script hands her back her power, and lets her make choices that alter the ending dynamic of Hamlet, but that lend it a powerful, feminist punch.

While the narrative can sometimes be a little confusing (it helps to know the source material), it held my interest throughout and never once forgot that its heroines, however intelligent, live in a time that does not favor women. It’s not just their inability to read, but their helplessness at the hands of the men around them – yet, Ophelia courageously intervenes before a servant girl is raped, then manages to save herself from a similar fate. And, she insists upon marriage before she will let Hamlet “have her.” Ophelia will not be a disgraced woman! It manages to have a strong heroine for the period, without her being too modern, something few stories manage.

If you are a puritan to the original, you may not like the changes – but I found it a fresh retelling with a compelling conclusion.

Sexual Content
Some innuendos; a man catches a woman bathing and she forces him to look away when she rises out of the pool (she's still wearing a shift). Several men have a servant girl down on the ground and are struggling with her -- Ophelia stops her from being raped, and then they threaten her instead. A man becomes aggressive in a prison cell with her, and tries to lift her skirt (she knees him in the crotch and runs away). Ophelia and Hamlet marry and have a tender love scene (lots of kissing and caressing, but no movement; we see her bare back and part of her breast). References to a child born out of wedlock.
 
Language:
None noted.
 
Violence:
Men shove around women; women slap other women; men manhandle and threaten women with rape; we see dead bodies several times, with bloody wounds; two men fight and kill each other with poison; a character stabs another person through the chest; we see the bloody sword come through the back of their chair; characters drink poison; many people are killed and/or have their throats slit in a battle scene.

Other:
Drinking. Mentions of magic and witchcraft.