Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an eternal classic played in theaters worldwide and adapted in movies by multiple screenwriters and directors. One of these films that received an equivocal response from the critics and audience was the 2018 movie Ophelia, directed by Claire McCarthy (Schwanebeck, 2020). It was based on Shakespeare’s original work and the 2006s novel by Lisa Klein (Schwanebeck, 2020). On the one hand, the film is praised for its incredible design and acting, but on the other hand, it is criticized for the superficial approach to presenting the story (Hoffman, 2018; Lopez, 2019). Although Klein’s book was not initially written in a simple language, the author stated that making the movie’s dialogues less complex allowed to widen the audience of this film (Ue, 2020). Furthermore, altering some details and ending represented female strength (Ue, 2020). Even though Ophelia and Gertrude are depicted as courageous characters in this movie, it can hardly be called an attempt to rewrite Hamlet from a feministic perspective. Instead, the film is closer to a fanfiction that seemed to fill the gaps or alter specific elements of a beloved play.
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The choice of the plot and the cast may suggest that the director and producers wanted to implement a feministic idea into the movie. Indeed, it is a popular and highly-demanded approach in modern cinematography. Furthermore, by selecting Daisy Ridley for Ophelia’s part, they probably wanted the energy of her previous role of strong and independent Rey from Star Wars to traverse this work (Pope, 2020). The protagonist remains brave even when she witnesses the dangerous game of the royal family and when her brother Laertes tells her to be afraid to stay safe (McCarthy, 2018). Furthermore, Ophelia still pursues the path of an ordinary woman of her age and status of that time. She works as the queen’s handmaiden, marries Hamlet, and leaves the castle to find a better place for her child after the death of her husband and brother. In the feministic version, the girl would probably seek revenge from Hamlet for murdering her father. However, she asked him to escape instead of accepting Laertes’ challenge; thus, it appears that the film aimed to represent her as a strong and wise person rather than a female warrior.
The primary purpose of the producers of the 2018s Ophelia was to re-tell classics from a different perspective. Specifically, they wanted to present the story from the point of view of the most undisclosed character, Ophelia. Although she was not fully developed as a feminist, the film illustrated her as a character with stoic wisdom to express courage if necessary and suppress her ego where needed. In fact, the movie director never mentioned in her interviews that she wanted to transform Shakespeare’s play into a feministic story. Conversely, she tried to preserve the original narrative and show some hidden parts of it (Ue, 2020). Indeed, Ophelia can be viewed as the symbol of a mother and wife who could suppress her emotions and feelings to save her family. Unfortunately, even if Hamlet verbally promised to support her decision to leave the castle, he decided to follow his masculine duty of retribution, demanded during that time.
The movie gave enough screen time to Hamlet to disclose him as a person with a complex psyche. Indeed, he had close relationships with his father but lacked an affectionate connection with his mother (Ue, 2020). Their relationship with Ophelia was based on their assumptions and expectations of each other (Ue, 2020). Therefore, even if they got married, Hamlet was more consumed with a vengeance for his father’s death rather than the responsibility to his wife and future child.
Despite the simplistic language used in Ophelia’s dialogues, I would describe the movie’s plot as more compelling than the original story. I think that it created tension and conflict by introducing Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s marriage. Furthermore, Gertrude’s final act of killing Polonius seemed to resolve two main issues, including revenge for king Hamlet’s and her son’s Prince Hamlet’s deaths. Still, this outcome was not her main objective even after her first husband’s death because she seemed to want to build a new family.
In summary, the 2018s movie Ophelia represented Shakespeare’s play from the female but not feministic perspective. Women characters in this film possess tenacity and wisdom, but they are not the primary decision-makers or warriors in this battle for the throne. Although Gertrude murdered Polonius, neither heroines, unlike men in the story, were driven by rage and vengeance. In fact, this ending resulted from a failure of all participants of the final part to seek reconciliation, which, even if improbable, but achievable if attempts were made to apologize and forgive. The plot of Ophelia was compelling by its twisted and unexpected turns. Overall, I think that this movie was successful in terms of creating the spirit of that epoch. However, it failed the language part, degenerating to TV series for teenagers, assuming the latter are incapable of perceiving more complex dialogues.
Hoffman, J. (2018). Ophelia review – Daisy Ridley stranded in disastrous Hamlet reimagining. The Guardian. Web.
Lopez, K. (2019). Claire McCarthy talks finding ‘Ophelia.’ Forbes. Web.
McCarthy, C. (2018). Ophelia [Film]. Covert Media.
Pope, J. H. (2020). Shakespeare’s fans. Springer International Publishing.
Schwanebeck, W. (2020). Feminist revisions of the sonnet in the works of Patience Agbabi and Sophie Hannah. Anglistik, 31(1), 183-196. Web.
Ue, T. (2020). Madness and metaphor in Lisa Klein’s and Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia. In T. Bishop, A.A. Joubin, & N. Khomenko (Eds.) The Shakespearean international yearbook (pp. 203-216). Routledge.