It’s been more than a year and a half since Daisy Ridley was announced as prepping to star as a reimagined Ophelia–a less helpless heroine than the version given to us by that whiny prat Hamlet. But be not afeared. While the project has been long in coming, it’s still in the works, as you can see from that photo above, courtesy of EW. In fact, it’s about to premiere at Sundance next month. Hopefully, a full release won’t be far behind.
Ophelia will be based on the book of the same name by Lisa Klein. I haven’t read the book yet (although once I remembered that, I immediately ordered it online), and while the reviews on GoodReads are conflicted-to-middling, the synopsis is exciting. We all know how Ophelia is depicted, not just in Hamlet itself, but in a range of artworks. She’s waifish, delicate, and usually shown as resigned to her fate, peacefully waiting for death like a very pretty flower of a woman.
F*ck all of that. Here’s the description of Klein’s Ophelia:
A rowdy, motherless girl, she grows up at Elsinore Castle to become the queen’s most trusted lady-in-waiting. Ambitious for knowledge and witty as well as beautiful, Ophelia learns the ways of power in a court where nothing is as it seems. When she catches the attention of the captivating, dark-haired Prince Hamlet, their love blossoms in secret. But bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and Ophelia’s happiness is shattered. Ultimately, she must choose between her love for Hamlet and her own life. In desperation, Ophelia devises a treacherous plan to escape from Elsinore forever . . . with one very dangerous secret.
The picture above isn’t technically our first look at Ridley’s Ophelia. That would have been this stunning image from last May:
But EW gives us our first look at Naomi Watts as Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, who in this version, is a sort of friend and mentor to the young heroine. From EW:
“Her marriage has grown stale, and I think she sees herself in Ophelia,” Watts explains. “It’s just a spark that reignites her. It’s almost like she wants to put her on a path that she’s not been able to reach herself. So she sort of befriends her, and it’s like a project in a way that she wishes she could recreate or reinvent herself.”
Whether or not the movie lives up to my hopes, I’m incredibly excited at even the idea of reimagining such a complex, undervalued character through a feminist lens. And that’s not a knock at Shakespeare. I wouldn’t dream. But we saw Ophelia through Hamlet’s eyes–that was the entire point. So many of Shakespeare’s supporting and minor characters are beloved because of what we, and modern directors and actors, project onto them. Why not explore those ideas, those nuances, in a new way?
There’s great precedent in a refocusing on Hamlet’s lesser characters. Most notably, in the absolutely fantastic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. As Naomi Watts notes, most of Ophelia’s story (like those of Hamlet’s funny friends) is told offstage, and we really only know her through his waffling perspective.
Watts says, “That’s often how women have been portrayed in storytelling — as the damsel in the distress. If their mind is powerful, it must be madness. And now there’s this shift that’s taking place, and that’s reflected in this storytelling.”
(via EW, image: Wikipedia, photoshop)
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