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You may think you know my story. You’ve heard it ends in madness, hearts broken, blood spilled, a kingdom lost. That is a story, but it is not mine. I did not lose my way. I did not lose myself to vengeance. Instead, I found my way to hope…”
Okay, okay, I admit it: after prancing out of The Rise of Skywalker back in December I took to IMDB, combing its time-honored halls for any other films wherein I might catch glimpses of my favorite faces. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given my love for both cozy rom-coms and historical dramas, Paterson, Operation Finale, and Ophelia shot to the top of a resulting “watchlist.”
But Ophelia* was at the very top, not only because I love mah girl Daisy Ridley, but because it’s JUST. SO. PRETTY. It’s also the perfect addition to my “Women of Substance” series (begun last week with my review of Circe), since Lady Ophelia herself is a great example of a tested yet quietly triumphant young woman.
Ophelia* tells the story of one of William Shakespeare’s most tragic heroines, the insane love interest of the equally tragic Prince Hamlet. Only in this retelling, Ophelia is not insane. In fact, one could argue she’s the only sane character in the entire film! When we first meet her she’s a bit of a tomboy, mischievous and curious about her new home within the Danish royal court. Eventually Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, takes Ophelia under her wing, training her to be one of her own ladies-in-waiting.
But while Ophelia becomes a discreet and often overlooked member of the Queen’s following, she’s no dumb cluck. She’s highly educated, gentle, and well-spoken, yet retains enough of her childhood whimsy to enjoy a frolic in a meadow or a swim in a nearby pond. And even as her romance with Prince Hamlet develops (and leads to a secret marriage–gasp!!!), she remains keenly aware of the crafty intrigues and alliances swirling around her. She never says much, and she definitely knows how to keep a secret.
But Ophelia will not be manipulated or intimidated. She’s loyal, but she isn’t blind. And she will not sacrifice herself or her principles…not even for the man she loves.
Ophelia* is an interesting movie because it really just assumes that you know this story like the back of your hand. You don’t see the King’s ghost informing Hamlet that he was murdered…because Ophelia doesn’t see it. You don’t see Polonius’ unfortunate death…because Ophelia wasn’t there to witness it. When I say this is a retelling of Hamlet told STRICTLY from Ophelia’s viewpoint, I mean it.
But it’s also interesting because–like Circe—this isn’t the story you think it is. You think Circe is going to be about a wily witch who turns the dude-bros into pigs ’cause she’s spiteful…until you find out she’s a lonely, heartbroken goddess who turns men into pigs because she was badly hurt, and she isn’t about to let it happen again. You think Ophelia* will be about Hamlet’s girlfriend who drives herself mad and drowns herself…until you find out she’s a levelheaded, tenacious young woman who takes to heart her father’s maxims to her brother:
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar…
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment…
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
—Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
Ophelia is guileless and compassionate, gentle and unpretentious. But she is also straightforward, strong-willed, and resolutely determined to do what is right, even when everyone else pressures her to do, say, or be otherwise. In the end, her steadfastness is rewarded: she’s the last one standing among the haunted cast of Hamlet, free to build a peaceful future for herself and her baby. (YEP, there’s a baby!)
So once again, if a woman of substance can make a life for herself anywhere, then Lady Ophelia qualifies with flying colors.