The genius of William Shakespeare has been a bottomless well of inspiration for creators down through the ages—flexible enough to absorb all manner of revision, from modern dress to modern English, and timeless enough to speak to successive generations with the common language of the human heart. Novelist Lisa Klein published Ophelia, her revisionist take on Hamlet in 2006, and now director Claire McCarthy and screenwriter Semi Chellas have brought her vision to the screen.
The opening image, ripped from the canvas of 19th-century pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais, shows Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) floating face up with a bouquet of flowers in her right hand in what has always been presumed to be her watery grave. Ophelia, in voiceover, declares that she is going to tell the real story, her story.
What follows is an interpretation of the events of Hamlet that follows the logic and desires of a young woman who is determined to survive in a world of masculine striving and violence. I liked the modern language that echoes Shakespeare’s words while infusing them with wholly different meanings. The interpolation of a bit of MacBeth here and a touch of Romeo and Juliet there brought a pleasant familiarity to this Shakespeare fan.
The production is absolutely stunning, and the final rejection of the values of patriarchy heartened me to the idea that young women who will flock to this film might just succeed in reinterpreting our social norms to build a more equitable future devoid of the destructive vanity that tears people and nations apart.