“Ophelia,” as its name implies, sees “Hamlet” through the eyes of one of Shakespeare’s best-known female characters. In this uneven reimagining, the girl remembered mostly for going mad and drowning becomes the heroine — a forward-thinking, fearlessly rule-breaking agent of change in a story usually marked by its hero’s inaction. Sometimes the cheekiness works and sometimes the empowerment theme feels forced.
Daisy Ridley’s titular protagonist is bold, even as a child — not a quality most would normally associate with Ophelia. She’s educated, brave, in control of her sexuality. Based on Lisa Klein’s young-adult novel, Semi Chellas’ script injects more than a little of “Romeo and Juliet” (star-crossed lovers, a secret marriage, an apothecary character, the deus ex machina of potions, etc.). Unfortunately, it does so without lending any lightness, as do, say, the gold-standard “life between the lines” explorations of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Claire McCarthy’s direction also feels heavy, especially in its use of score.
There’s some amusement in seeing familiar scenes from Ophelia’s perspective and a whole new semi-thriller plot running below the structure of Shakespeare’s play. For “Hamlet” aficionados, there are sly references: “I thought you were a ghost”; “You debate what to do next, while you do next to nothing”; a new spin on “the lady doth protest too much”; and the opening tableau, reminiscent of celebrated paintings of the drowned girl.
“Ophelia’s” message — something about the futility of vengeance — is muddled despite being spoken aloud, particularly in an unsatisfying finale in which mystifying decisions are made. One wishes the revisionists had worked out more clever rationales for the protagonist’s actions (or non-actions).
One doesn’t have to be a “Hamlet” fan, for instance, to find the film’s version of the famed mad scene to be ineffectively contorted. Ophelia’s heretofore dear familial relationships are neglected in favor of pulpy romance and scenes with the queen and the new apothecary/witch character (both played by Naomi Watts). Despite the screen time, however, those favored relationships don’t feel explored, either.
“Ophelia” has its moments but seems destined to be little more than a curiosity.
Rated: PG-13, for a scene of violence/bloody images, some sensuality, and thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: Starts June 28, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Arena Cinelounge Hollywood