“To be, or not to be?” Ophelia (Film Review)

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The plain, beautiful orphan Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) is a lady-in-waiting serving Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) of Denmark in the court of the King. Ophelia is favoured by the Queen but not her peers, until she gradually catches the eye of the Queen’s son, Prince Hamlet (George MacKay).

Tragedy strikes however when the King dies after being found to have been bitten by a poisonous snake. Following his death, his half-brother, Claudius (Clive Owen), is crowned King and takes Gertrude as his own.

Hamlet suspects foul play and struggles to accept Claudius as King. Ophelia finds herself torn between her heart and her head as she strives to help Hamlet find the truth, but also protect her own life…

We all know the Bard’s story of Hamlet, but what about seeing it through the eyes of another? Namely, the lady-in-waiting Ophelia. Director Claire McCarthy does just that with this costume drama that relies more on forbidden romance and affairs of the heart than anything else. If Shakespeare provided the drama, McCarthy and screenwriter Semi Chellas provide the TV-movie romance plot that never lives up to the source material.

Set in and around the court of the Danish royal family – all with distracting American / English accents – the story of Hamlet weaves in and out of the perspective of Ophelia, played by Daisy Ridley. Ridley shows she is capable of more than just saving the galaxy with a lightsaber, but sadly the material doesn’t give her much range to really go for it in terms of her acting ability. The pace ambles along at a ho-hum pace, and when removing many of the core drivers of the play, it becomes a little stagnant and often boring as you wait for the next drama to unfold. Her natural beauty and delectable accent fit in perfectly, and she commands attention on most scenes she is in. If you’re a fan, you won’t be disappointed.

Also, the likes of Watts, Owen, and MacKay are all capable actors in their own right but again just don’t seem to be able to sink their teeth into the characters. Everyone feels restrained, and never truly get under the skin of their roles and the swelling drama underneath. Maybe taking the focus away from Hamlet himself to let Ophelia drive the story isn’t such a good thing to make into a 1hr 54 min film. If you aren’t fully aware of the play, then most of those classic, dramatic elements will be lost on you trying to navigate the plot via a sub-character.

The film does look good, as most of this era do, with the usual eye for attention on the costumes and sets. The visual effects enhance the world around us and everything looks near perfect for the time. Steven Price provides the gentle soundtrack to this, and while it is nothing memorable, it does the job. The finale gets some of the juices flowing when the boiling point tips over and we finally see conclusions and outcomes of the story we have followed, but again it feels too little too late for us to really get invested in. Of course, that’s not to say those involved don’t give it all their worth, because they do. It just doesn’t feel the best way of telling such a story.

Ophelia was a promising project with a good cast and rising star of a lead, but sadly doesn’t amount to anything memorable or gives those involved much to really chew on by neglecting much of what the Bard presented all those years ago.

Dir: Claire McCarthy

Scr: Semi Chellas

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, Tom Felton, George MacKay

Prd: Daniel Bobker, Sarah Curtis, Paul Hanson, Ehren Kruger,

DOP: Denson Baker

Music: Steven Price

Country: UK/USA

Year: 2018

Runtime: 118 mins

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Ophelia in select cinemas 22 November and on-demand 27 November

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