Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Claire McCarthy
scr Semi Chellas
prd Daniel Bobker, Sarah Curtis, Ehren Kruger, Paul Hanson
with Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, George MacKay, Clive Owen, Tom Felton, Devon Terrell, Nathaniel Parker, Mia Quiney, Dominic Mafham, Daisy Head, Sebastian De Souza, Jack Cunningham-Nuttall
release US 28.Jun.19,
UK 22.Nov.19
18/UK 1h54

watts owen felton

ridley and mackay
A spin on Shakespeare's Hamlet, this lavish period drama tells the story through Ophelia's eyes. Based on Lisa Klein's book, the script imagines the story as a teen romance novel, complete with scowling princes and heaving-bosoms. But adolescent angst feels silly in such an iconic story. Still, if you put Shakespeare out of your mind, the film's soapy approach offers some lively moments.
A fiercely independent teen who refuses to be inferior to the boys who get to attend school, Ophelia (Quiney) becomes a lady in waiting to Denmark's Queen Gertrude (Watts). As Gertrude has a not-so-secret fling with her brother-in-law Claudius (Owen), Ophelia (now Ridley) catches the eye of Gertrude's son Prince Hamlet (McKay). but after the king (Parker) dies, Claudius assumes the throne and marries Gertrude, sparking Hamlet's rage. So while his secret relationship with Ophelia develops, Hamlet is rather preoccupied with his mission to avenge his father's suspicious death.
The film's design is lush and colourful, from luxuriant hairstyles to richly textured tapestries. Steven Price's surging present-day score echoes the anachronistic style of both the dialog and ethnic blend of people in this medieval castle. Shakespeare's most poetic monologs are rendered here as throwaway chats, which would be clever if the emphasis shifted to another element of the story. But everything feels equally throwaway. So director McCarthy and writer Chellas leave it to the cast and settings to hold the interest.

Despite the amped-up feminism, Ridley plays Ophelia with an odd passivity, reacting with moody-eyed pouts and smiles to this twisted royal court. Her chemistry with McKay's sulky prince has some kick to it, even if the script never finds any point of resonance in their relationship. At least McKay gives Hamlet a backbone amid his feverish internal torment. Meanwhile, Watts adds some spiky edge to Gertrude that makes her fascinating, especially in her bristly scenes with Owen's nasty-but-charismatic Claudius. She's also good, if rather less interesting, in a second role.

All of this means that the female empowerment theme ultimately just adds to the movie's faintly ridiculous tone. Not only is this an appalling representation of the period, but it also fails to address the topic with any meaning. For all their talk, these women are never more than victims of the nasty men around them. So the bloodbath climax we're all familiar with takes on a grim new meaning: women might find happiness if all the men just killed each other.

cert 15 themes, violence 18.Nov.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall