Friday, May 14, 2021

Ophelia (2018)

. Dir. Claire McCarthy. Perf. Daisy Ridley, Mia Quiney, Calum O'Rourke. 2018. DVD. 
Shout! Factory, 2019.
Based on the book by Lisa Klein (for which, q.v.), the 2018 film Ophelia has a fair bit of interest—up to a point.  And then it all falls apart.

The opening is pretty promising. We get, à la Olivier, some narration. Over a shot of Ophelia floating and then sinking in the brook, Ophelia herself tells us that her story has been told many times by many people, but now it's her chance to tell it herself:

The scene also gives us the musical theme that will run through the entire film—a setting of the poem in Hamlet's letter to Ophelia: "Doubt thou the stars are fire, / Doubt that the sun doth move, / Doubt truth to be a liar, / But never doubt I love" (II.ii.116-19).  

The next scene involves the ten-year-old (ish) Ophelia and her entrée into court. The young Queen Gertrude takes a liking to her, makes her one of her maids-in-waiting, and protects her from the jealous mocking and cruel treatment the other maids-in-waiting deal out. We get some interesting information about Gertrude's backstory, and the relationship between these two—the only two female characters in Shakespeare's play—starts to develop some interest and depth.

The scene with Laertes' departure and Polonius' challenge to Ophelia also shows some interesting family dynamics:

I like the paraphrasing and paring down of Polonius' advice to his son. Additionally, the relationship between Polonius and Ophelia when they talk about Hamlet seems more playful than controlling (though, clearly, it's both).

And the nunnery scene is also interesting, though also somewhat unbelievable. Ophelia uses the opportunity to pass along a warning to Hamlet. Please note that there will be spoilers in this clip and in the rest of this post.

So. Yes. I'm sorry for the spoilers, but they will help indicate how what might be interesting and deep and significant is abandoned in favor of the ludicrous. With one perfectly good play to develop into a derivative, this film decides it isn't enough. We get some Macbeth—Ophelia visits the three witches (conflated into one). And then we get some Romeo and Juliet. We learn that, in her younger days, the witch took the same potion Juliet took to avoid being burned at the stake. And, in this Hamlet derivative, Ophelia and Hamlet have gone off to a Friar to be secretly married.

If you keep watching from that point, the plot just gets more and more convoluted and confusing. If you make it to the duel scene, be prepared to laugh heartily. And if you get to the end, you'll see that the advertising tag line for the film, "Vengeance is Hers," is the exact opposite of the conclusion.

In short, the first third is really interesting, the second third is weird, and the final third is laughable. It's interesting to watch, but it could have been so much better.

There's another film entitled Ophélia—a French film from 1962—that I intend to try next. Let's see if that's  a better way to hear her story.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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