A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ophelia is a revisionist take on Hamlet's love interest -- presenting her as much more independent and wise-minded than she appears in Shakespeare's classic play. Written and directed by women (and starring Star Wars' Daisy Ridley in the title role), the film moves through all the beats of Hamlet from Ophelia's point of view. And so, just like the play, there are poisonings, swordfights, stabbings, tense confrontations, deaths, a drowning, and a bloody battle scene. A sensual lovemaking scene between a married couple reveals a woman's bare back. Wine and "tonic" are consumed; the latter is implied to be an illicit substance. While Hamlet is focused on revenge, power, and murder, this story centers on romance, social class, and the difficulties of maintaining your position in court while those who rule the kingdom are having personal issues. On that note, there's also more exploration of Queen Gertrude's (Naomi Watts) struggles and backstory here than in the original play. For teens familiar with the source material, the film is a gratifying, female-empowerment flip to required reading.
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What's the story?
This film reimagines William Shakespeare's Hamlet with OPHELIA as the main character. Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) is a girl of common birth whose intelligence and moxie charms Denmark's Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts). As the queen's favored lady-in-waiting, Ophelia keeps the secrets that are held within the walls of Elsinore Castle -- including her own forbidden relationship with Prince Hamlet (George MacKay). When the kingdom experiences a sudden change in leadership, Ophelia realizes she may have to choose between true love and her own survival.
Is it any good?
Director Claire McCarthy gives Shakespeare's most misunderstood and debated character the story she deserves. Ophelia's role in Hamlet has created more questions than answers over the centuries: She's educated, but what is her role at the castle? Is Hamlet in love with her, or is he stringing her along? How does she go from a place of self-assurance to a point where she's harassed and bullied by her brother, her father, her lover, and his family in a way that seems to spark madness? Maybe in the year 1600, it all made sense to audiences, but for modern teens reading Shakespeare's classic tragedy, Ophelia's behavior is confusing. The only character who's equally enigmatic is Queen Gertrude.
McCarthy and writer Semi Chellas delightfully unravel both women's stories with a take that's redeeming and satisfying and makes a heck of a lot of sense. Just as we suspected, Ophelia is no dummy and definitely nobody's fool. She's got a spark that modern audiences can feel, and it's clear why Hamlet loves her -- and, for that matter, Gertrude. Interactions among the 14th-century courtiers can be as catty and cutthroat as high school, and Ophelia's MO of "observe, keep mum, and learn how to dodge and weave" is a lesson that might resonate with young audiences. Ophelia is far from Shakespeare canon, but it certainly is a step in empowering young women to know that even if history's greatest playwright saw women as throwaway characters, there's definitely more to the story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the filmmakers felt it was important to tell Ophelia's story from her perspective. How is her personality different here than in Hamlet? How do you feel about a modern writer iterating on Shakespeare's intent?
Two men came up with the idea for this film but hired a female writer and director to tell the story. Do you think it's important for women to tell women's stories? Do you think a man can tell a woman's story as authentically as a woman, or does it matter? What do you think about female filmmakers making a movie about men?
Other than the female focus, what other changes did you notice in this take on Hamlet? Are there any other classics you think could use an update to reflect a more modern way of thinking?
- In theaters: June 28, 2019
- Cast: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen
- Director: Claire McCarthy
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: a scene of violence/bloody images, some sensuality, and thematic elements
- Last edit: June 17, 2019
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