This reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is taken from the novel by Lisa M.Klein and adapted to screen by Semi Chellas. It takes the so-called ‘mad’ lover of Prince Hamlet; Ophelia, played by Daisy Ridley and transforms her into a full character with a backstory.
The story begins with the small motherless child who is taken to Elsinore Castle where she becomes one of the Queen’s lady’s in waiting. With a poetic soul and a fascination of the world, she ventures outside in nature, mocked by the other ladies. Prince Hamlet, played by George MacKay, upon returning from university falls in love with Ophelia, but is forbidden to marry a commoner. King Hamlet dies by a snake’s venom, leaving his brother Claudius to take the throne and marry Queen Gertrude. Young Hamlet is enraged by this quest for the throne as well as his infatuation with Ophelia which leads to contemptuous actions. Although he and Ophelia marry in secret, they both end up pleading insanity as part of their plan to escape.
The film briefly pays tribute to the element of mystic spirituality and reincarnation in ghost-form, a prominent theme in Shakespeare’s classically beloved play. I would have liked it to go further with this, however what was explored more was the power dynamics of Ophelia’s quest, therefore I forgive it. Who better to play this complex reimagining of the previously underestimated character but Daisy Ridley. With such charm and pose, Ridley commands the lens with a glint in her eye.
Released in the UK in November 2019 (around the same time of E. Jean Carroll’s Defamation Lawsuit Against Trump) the midst of the #MeToo movement is somewhat memorialized with this release. The film’s 14th century setting has contemporary resonance, especially through the storyline of Mechtild being gaslighted by Claudius and her reputation in the village slandered, as she was declared a witch. I enjoy the ode to Victorian interests, such as the language of flowers. The scene in which Ophelia acts as though she has gone mad is a brilliant performance that is filmed perfectly. The looks on everyone’s faces are priceless. As Ophelia faces Queen Gertrude and gives her flowers detailing each species and it’s meaning, even in her supposed madness, she reveals her deep knowledge and understanding of the world and it’s nature, after all she is a learned woman who can read!
Ophelia navigates her way through the male dominated terrain in which she experiences treatment unlike the sort that still occurs today. When Ophelia sees another lady being tormented by a group of men, she immediately tries to rescue her, only to be targeted herself. Hamlet appears in defense, to which she is not best pleased and informs him that it wasn’t necessary to rescue her, that she’d be quite alright herself. It is in these moments that the film is self aware of its power and resonance with its modern audience.
The film is quick to squash any notion of the knight in shining armor. After all, it is the women who triumph in this film and the men who are left defeated, brought to their demises by allowing their pre-conditioned ideas of masculinity and power to override love and truth.
If you love Shakespeare, but you’re a feminist – this is the film for you!