Sometimes, the most reassuring type of storytelling is the kind that unexpectedly reels you in with material you formally thought was uninteresting. Such is the case for Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia. As a viewer with limited knowledge (and interest) of the classic works of William Shakespeare, I couldn’t help but be swept up in the characters and drama of McCarthy’s reenvisioning.

Written by Emmy nominee Semi Chellas (Mad Men), Ophelia approaches the story of Hamlet from a revived perspective by the title character (played by Daisy Ridley of Star Wars fame, who could easily line herself up for a Keira Knightley-esque career in period pieces). Ophelia still has a blooming romance with Hamlet (1917’s George MacKay), but the film is primarily her coming-of-age tale in a kingdom where she’s neglected for her differences. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Naomi Watts) is the first adult of royalty to truly recognize Ophelia, which gives Ophelia a confident boost and Gertrude a new person to confide in. This, unfortunately, also brings Ophelia closer to the threat of Claudius (Clive Owen) as a vengeful plan comes to fruition, which also becomes a wicked twist for Hamlet.

Claire McCarthy distances her filmmaking from stuffy tropes and, instead, swings for a consciously lighter and more approachable adaptation – think A Knight’s Tale without a pop soundtrack or a less graphic episode of Game of Thrones. This lighter tone doesn’t feel like a cop out from Shakespeare’s tragedy because the film completely owns its distinct identity while staying true to the original literature. The film separates itself by beaming with vibrancy (through its cinematography and post-production work) that is present throughout the movie; adding a thought-provoking interpretation to Ophelia’s increasing hopeful attitude, even through tougher strides of conflict. 

The twisty finale may be difficult to follow for viewers who are more familiar with Shakespeare’s original works, as Ophelia is given a brand new ending to her story but, even then, McCarthy still finds a way to hook her audience with this memorable film.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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