Starring Daisey Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, George MacKay, Tom Felton, Devon Terrell
It’s probably not a coincidence that opening sequence shots in “Ophelia” resemble Kings Landing from “Game of Thrones”. The Disney like voice over in the prologue, “the story you don’t know”, quickly dispels the association that this will be anything as riveting as HBO’s bloodthirsty shock-value series. Lisa Klein’s novel might borrow names from Shakespeare, but she puts an entirely new spin on Hamlet. Clive Owen’s first scene in the years worst wig, almost dooms anything happening subsequently. However, Naomi Watt’s duel performance is quite enticing. Unrecognizable Daisey Ridley (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) might give her best performance yet, which basically just means she is better here than “Murder on the Orient Express” and the other indie films she starred in before her franchise marriage.
Interrupting the King & Queen (Watts) at court was the best thing ever to happen to young Ophelia (Ridley). Taken under Queen Gertrude’s care at an early age, she is raised in court to be a lady. When the King dies, Gertrude re-marries brother-in-law, the newly appointed, King Claudius (Owen). Gertrude’s son Hamlet (Mackay) falls for the his mother’s lowborn redheaded servant, who distinctly has the only morality left in the entire palace. Ophelia meets a witch in the forest that aids the Queen stay young and beautiful, but there is a price to pay for dabbling in potions and magic. It turns out the banished witch is actually the disgraced sister of the queen who doesn’t care what goes on across the hill. Knowledge is power, and Ophelia discovers secrets that tie The Witch, The Queen and the new King together in a dangerous plot.
The dedication on the part of the filmmakers shines through even when the performances and costumes do not.
The dedication on the part of the filmmakers shines through even when the performances and costumes do not. Semi Chellas’s adaptation is undoubtedly influenced by the last ten years of George RR Martin’s grip on the medieval epic, a new standard. Case and point how the King here, meets a similar demise as Robert Baratheon. Director Claire McCarthy is dedicated to making this an all encompassing and engaging drama that ends in quite an unexpected bloodbath. “Not every story must end with a battle,” Ophelia naively says to Hamlet, not realizing she in a Hollywood movie. “Ophelia” also serves as a dress rehearsal for Oscar nominee Watts, currently filming the “Game of Thrones” prequel for HBO. Her double duty performance as twin sisters is her most riveting work on screen in ages.
“These are strange times in the castle,” Laertes (Felton), brother of Ophelia says. Indeed, as Laertes entire character arc could have been removed. “Ophelia” battles with itself to constantly find scenes that recharge familiar clichés and stereotypes. The first scene with the Witch is a real turning point in the right direction. McCarthy is also careful to keep the film based in reality and focused on the humanity or often lack there-of. It’s just too bad Owen’s character feels and looks like a drunk actor who isn’t even giving 30% of what he has to offer. His performance is by far the weakest element to an ensemble that functions better when he is off screen. What’s accomplished on a small budget is quite impressive. Less certainly looks like a whole lot more.
Ophelia is Game of Thrones lite for those needing a placeholder until Naomi Watts heads to Westeros.