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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Ophelia is a sort of Girls' Own Hamlet, a shaken-up Shakespeare, based on a novel by Lisa Klein. Here the tragedy of Hamlet is told from the point of view of Ophelia, played with feeling and ferocity by Daisy Ridley. George MacKay, enters stage right as Hamlet, the Danish prince who falls madly in love with Ophelia, while he pretends to go mad. As in the play, he does this in order to unmask his uncle Claudius (Clive Owen) as the man who murdered his father, the King, and married his mother Gertrude (Naomi Watts).
Ophelia plays a more active role than Shakespeare wrote, as a feminist heroine who demands the right to tell her side of the story. Shakespeare used Ophelia's tragedy as counterpoint to Hamlet's own; here, she becomes the main theme. The aim is to make her loss as powerful as his and in that respect, the film works: her tragedy is just as deep. The director, Claire McCarthy, pitches Ophelia directly at a young female audience, ramping up the soundtrack so that the film plays like a modern romance, with swoons and tunes and costumes to die for – or die in, given the mortality rate at Elsinore this spring.
Shakespeare is used to having his works befuddled, but this has whole scenes that do not appear in the play and new characters added, so it has to largely depart from the text. On the other hand, part of the fun is to see how a flexible new idea can invert familiar scenes.
Ophelia takes liberties with Shakespeare rather than improving upon it, but why not? It's fun to think what lies beneath the play; it's fun to think how he might have done it were he writing now; it's fun to wonder how different the play might have been, if it was called Ophelia rather than Hamlet, and William had been Winifred Shakespeare. In that way, the film reminds us of the towering achievement of the original, so strong and complex that it can withstand so much re-engineering.