Remember Hamlet 2? In that flawed and awesome comedy, an Arizona drama teacher wants so badly for the characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to survive that he writes a rock musical sequel that undoes everybody’s deaths. That unfortunate comparison flashed through my mind as I watched Ophelia play out. This revisionist take on Shakespeare’s tragedy (which opens this weekend at Premiere Cinemas Burleson only) offers up gauzy teen romance, cheap feminism, and bad faux-Celtic music in place of the Bard’s poetry, and it doesn’t even give us a chorus of “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” to compensate.
Daisy Ridley stars as the titular maiden, whom we first see floating in the brook in imitation of the famous painting by John Everett Millais. The film then flashes back to her as a headstrong young girl (Mia Quiney) who is taken under the wing of Gertrude (Naomi Watts), the flaky, flirtatious queen of Denmark who grows steadily more obsessed with regaining her youth. Eventually, Ophelia falls for Gertrude’s moody son, the prince (George MacKay), but they’re both caught up in the palace intrigue after the death of King Hamlet (Nathaniel Parker).
I’ll admit, I haven’t read the Lisa Klein novel on which this is based, but the movie suffers from a familiar shortcoming of these woman-centric revisions of male myths like Girl With a Pearl Earring: The heroine is basically a modern woman plunked down into the past, and she’s so much a stand-in for our values that she’s left with no odd corners of personality, no attitudes more consistent with her time, no acknowledgment of the powerful ways that a time and place’s mores push back on a person. Instead, we get ladies-in-waiting acting like mean girls and the queen sending Ophelia to meet a witch in the forest (also Watts) to retrieve a youth potion. Australian director Claire McCarthy stages one scene creatively, when the actors arrive at Elsinore and stage a shadow-play re-enactment of the king’s murder. The film looks good, but that isn’t enough.
The shame is, the cast here would have been good enough for a straight-up adaptation of Hamlet, with Clive Owen as a properly ruthless Claudius and Tom Felton well-cast as Laertes. Watts is a more vivid Gertrude than most Shakespeare adaptations can boast, probably because she receives more additional fleshing out than any of the other characters. MacKay strikes a nice balance of teary, bloodthirsty, and funny as the melancholy prince, and Ridley delivers the fireworks when Ophelia takes a cue from Hamlet and pretends to be insane in front of the court. Someone get these people into a theater in the West End, because this vehicle isn’t worthy of them.
Starring Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts. Directed by Claire McCarthy. Written by Semi Chellas, based on Lisa Klein’s novel. Rated PG-13.