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Daisy Ridley Gives “Ophelia” A Whole New Identity

New interpretations of classic literary characters need to blaze a creative path in order to justify the alternate look. Filmmakers have been doing this with William Shakespeare’s plays for decades, and even in the past few decades, we’ve seen numerous takes. From the brash changes of 10 Things I Hate About You and O to the more subtle switches of the most recent take on Macbeth, there’s always a new avenue to explore. This week, Ophelia does that with Hamlet, mainly by changing the protagonist. Having debuted at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2018, it’s been a long road for the flick, but it does finally hit theaters in a few days, hoping to compel with its shift in focus.

The film is, as mentioned above, at its core a re-imagining of the classic Shakespeare story Hamlet, just from a new point of view. This time, it’s from the point of view of Ophelia (Daisy Ridley), one of the queen’s brightest ladies-in-waiting. The young woman finds herself drawn to the young crown prince Hamlet (George MacKay), while political intrigue burns throughout Denmark. Soon drawn together into a secret love affair, betray and distrust within the royal family not only threatens to destabilize the rule of the country, but come between the lovers as well. Through it all, moments from Hamlet are depicted, just through the eyes of Ophelia, who is determined to see things through in a different way this time. Claire McCarthy directs a script from Semi Chellas, with cinematography from Denson Baker, as well as a score from Academy Award winning composer Steven Price. Among the supporting cast, we have big names like Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, alongside Tom Felton, Daisy Head, Mia Quiney, Devon Terrell, and more.

Daisy Ridley nearly makes this worth watching all on her own. Without question, Ridley is quite good here, though ultimately let down by the film’s inability to take the inherent curiosity of the premise and do much of anything interesting with it. Unlike the aforementioned 10 Things I Hate About You or O, there’s nothing radical being done to the material. Ophelia very much still paints within the lines, albeit with a sporadically fascinating feminist bent. Mostly, it just gives a new reading too Hamlet. That’s all well and good, but is it a compelling reading? Unfortunately, for too much of the running time, the answer is no. Moreover, when a film wastes Naomi Watts, even if it’s giving Ridley juicy material, that’s an issue. On the flip side, Price’s score is solid, while DP Baker helps to give the whole project a luminous look.

For me, this movie falls just shy of the mark you’d hope for, considering the potential within retelling the story of Hamlet from her perspective. Ridley breathes life into the part whenever she can, but an odd focus often ends up robbing the flick of whatever forward momentum or power it would otherwise have. This leaves it feeling more like an exercise than entertainment of any sort. The film functions as a curiosity, as well as a vehicle for Ridley’s considerable talents, but it needed a bit more to get the thumbs up from yours truly. It’s ever so slightly a misfire.

This weekend, open minded fans of The Bard’s work may well want to give a shot to Ophelia, a new way of looking at the classic Hamlet tale. Moreover, Star Wars junkies could be curious to see Daisy Ridley in a whole new light. While she tries to imbue the character with more than initially found on the page, it’s all in service of a project too muddled to truly succeed. The movie looks great, has a strong central performance from Ridley, and occasionally captures your interest, but it’s mostly a fascinating yet flawed experiment. Make of that what you will…

Ophelia opens in theaters this Friday.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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