Ophelia: Hamlet Fanfiction Is A Letdown

Daisy Ridley as “Ophelia” and George MacKay as “Hamlet” in Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

The Daisy Ridley-starring Ophelia is unfortunately a bit of a letdown in the most recent adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play.

What the film does is tell the classic Hamlet story from Ophelia’s (Daisy Ridley) point of view in the Denmark-set film.  It’s an admirable attempt but I feel like there’s something missing.  In switching the point of view, the film falls quite short in that regard.  This is unfortunate because the premise had the potential to be a great drama.

In Ophelia, Queen Gerturde (Naomi Watts) takes the titular character into the castle as one of her ladies-in-waiting.  Before you know it, Prince Hamlet (George MacKay) falls for her.  If you’re familiar with the story, you already know that they carry on a secretive romance.  Meanwhile, war between Denmark and Norway is surely imminent!  If this isn’t bad enough, Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius (Clive Owen), kills Hamlet’s dad in order to get the throne.

So as to set things up, the film gives us a bit of a prologue set when both Ophelia and Hamlet are children.  This is certainly one aspect that sets the film apart from the many on-screen adaptations of the Shakespearean classic.  One of the things that sets the film apart is handing the film over to both Ophelia and Queen Gertrude.  The other thing is that the film takes us in quite a different direction when Claudius knows Ophelia is going to expose him.

Contemporary audiences will be relieved to know that the language has been updated for the 21st century.  Shakespeare purists will not.  This is certainly one of the toughest things that comes with adapting this period films.  Do you tell them in the original tongue or update for modern audiences?  The film goes for the latter and it ends up becoming a bad move.  In adapting Lisa Klein’s book for the screen, Semi Chellas’ script falls quite short.

That the film aims to subvert what we know about the Hamlet story by turning it on its head is a good idea.  It’s just that the whole female empowerment angle could definitely be told in a stronger way that benefits the material.  In this retelling, the titular character is no longer a tragic victim.  In Hamlet, she is reported to have died by way of drowning.  What we see in the film is a young woman who comes of age as an independent woman.  As exciting as this retelling should be, it just feels like something is missing here.

I don’t know if it was just me but the thriller elements in this story felt lacking.  This is one of the problems that comes with watching a film at home rather than on the big screen.  My experience in viewing the film ends up being quite different than how its intended to be seen.

Ophelia should be a stronger film but falls well short of expectations in this fanfiction tale.

DIRECTOR:  Claire McCarthy
CAST:  Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, George Mackay, Tom Felton, and Clive Owen

IFC Films will open Ophelia in theaters on June 28, 2019.  A Digital/VOD release will follow on July 2, 2019. Grade: 2/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.