Movies

Review: 'Ophelia'

Shakespeare's drowned woman is reimagined yet again in this YA-based film
DROWNED WOMAN: Based on a young adult novel, 'Ophelia' trades color for substance.

The name Ophelia, swiped by Shakespeare from an obscure Italian versifier, derives from the word "Help." The movie Ophelia needs it.

In this retelling of Hamlet, from the point of view of its sacrificial lamb, the young commoner Ophelia (Daisy Ridley), bullied by mean girls at Elsinore, has a romance with the young Prince Hamlet (George MacKay); it's right before he leaves for college, and then later after he returns to the rotten court.

Ophelia is not an underwritten part, but Queen Gertrude is (at least according to Kenneth Branagh). As played by Naomi Watts, the queen is in on the regicide from the beginning. This Gertrude has a 'tude—she's haughty, and intoxicated on some mysterious tonic she imbibes.

Australian director Claire McCarthy has the benefit of expensive production values. It's shot at Krivoklat Castle in the Czech Republic. The costumes and colors seem derived from Pre-Raphaelite painting, particularly John Everett Millais' 1850s painting of the drowned girl. (Ridley has the long red locks of Millais' model Elizabeth Siddal.) As the scheming King Claudius, Clive Owen is virile and formidable, and wields a broadsword like it's not his first time in a swordfight. The staging of the play within the play, The Mousetrap—a revel led by the mad prince Hamlet—begins startlingly, with the unexpected snapping down of a screen and circusy shadow effects.

As adapted from Lisa Klien's young adult novel by Semi Chellas, Ophelia is suffused with the qualities that make some readers snobby about YA lit. As is often the case in these novels, old adults in the story are monsters, full of ooky desires. The young, by contrast, are all pure and misunderstood. There is big money to be made in writing flattery for young readers, but such writing makes monochromatic stories and a stage filled with characters who are either good guys or bad guys.

Without the dialogue, Hamlet is melodrama. You sort of ache to hear the actual lines instead of these Shakespeare for Dummies summaries—Hamlet gasping "So it was no snake!" (that killed his father) rather than "O, my prophetic soul " The nunnery Hamlet orders Ophelia to join has actual nuns in it. (The YA audience doesn't need to know that Hamlet was using popular slang for a brothel.) When Ophelia goes nutzoid at the banquet hall handing out gifts of flowers, Ridley has her most touching moment, precisely because what she says is reasonably close to the original dialogue. Maybe the logic was that if Ophelia is going funny in the head, she might as well talk funny, like someone from the 1600s.

Ophelia
PG-13; 114 Mins.
3Below Theaters and Lounge, San Jose


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