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Ophelia’ Reimagines Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ From A Female Perspective

Lisa Klein’s young adult novel is now a film

Photo credit: IFC Films

Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) and Gertrude (Naomi Watts) get to tell their side of the Hamlet story in "Ophelia."

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The new film "Ophelia" looks to Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" from the perspective of its supporting female character.

Aired: August 5, 2019 | Transcript

Companion viewing

"Rosencraantz and Guildenstern are Dead" (1990)

"Hamlet" (1990, Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia)

"Hamlet" (1996, Kate Winslet as Ophelia)

The new film "Ophelia" looks to Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" from the perspective of its supporting female character.

As the film opens, Ophelia informs us that we may think we know her story and think she was a tragic figure.

"But I was always a willful girl who followed her heart and spoke her mind and it is high time I should tell you my story myself," and with those opening lines, the film begins its reimagining of one of Shakespeare's greatest and most well-known plays.

The film gives us Ophelia's back story. She was not born to a noble family so she grew up outside the court and without wealth. School and even the libraries were off limits to her as a girl so she convinced her brother, Laertes, to teach her to read. Eventually, Ophelia (played as an adult by "Star Wars'" Daisy Ridley) becomes a lady in waiting to Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) and gets drawn into the intrigue of the court. She also ends up falling in love with Gertrude's son Hamlet (George MacKay).

Based on Lisa Klein’s young adult novel of the same name, the title character tells her story with Hamlet and the court as the backdrop.

Director Claire McCarthy was drawn to telling the story from a female perspective that could attract a younger audience.

"That was certainly a big attraction to this is to work out how to give her currency and in a completely different way and to try and understand the dynamics of the Hamlet's story from a different point of view. From her point of view," McCarthy said.

"Ophelia" has a similar appeal to that of Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." Both encourage us to look at something familiar with new eyes to gain fresh insights.

Daisy Ridley is a radiant Ophelia. She gives us a strong, smart woman bristling at the limitations class and gender place on her. Watts also gives new shadings to Gertrude who can come across as difficult to fathom or feel empathy for. But in this context, we can at least understand her better.

"Ophelia" opens Friday at Digital Gym Cinema.

Listen to my podcast all about "Ophelia" and The Female Perspective in Film.

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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