IFC Films                                 Daisy Ridley (left) and Naomi Watts star in “Ophelia.”

IFC Films Daisy Ridley (left) and Naomi Watts star in “Ophelia.”

‘Ophelia’ unsteadily revisits ‘Hamlet’ from female perspective

There’s fine acting from Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts, but this fails as both potboiler and quasi-Shakespeare.

Have you ever walked out of production of “Hamlet” and thought to yourself, “But what about Ophelia’s truth?” Perhaps a new Shakespeare-inspired movie might do the trick.

Poor Ophelia, Hamlet’s troubled love, takes the spotlight in a movie based on Lisa Klein’s 2006 novel. “Ophelia” stars Daisy Ridley, doing a variation on her “Star Wars” character, embodying intelligence, pluck and a strong disinclination to behave the way men wish she would.

She’s also fond of Hamlet (George McKay). Bad time for dating, though, as the Prince of Denmark is pretty steamed about his royal mother Gertrude (Naomi Watts) marrying his dead father’s brother Claudius (Clive Owen).

In much the way that Tom Stoppard’s classic “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” re-imagined “Hamlet” by occasionally intersecting with Shakespeare’s scenes, “Ophelia” strays into the familiar plot. And then steers right out again, to let Ophelia ponder what just happened.

Melodrama prevails, especially a new wrinkle that gives Gertrude a witchy sister (also played by Watts) who lives in the woods and makes potions out of various herbs and spices.

This subplot does allow for one of the movie’s cleverest twists. It has to do with how Ophelia manages to stick around longer than she does in Shakespeare’s play, where (400-year-old spoiler alert) she unceremoniously exits the story via a watery death.

The other distinctive touch in Semi Chellis’s screenplay is the portrait of what happens when a truly rotten man ascends to power. All the bad people realize they have a license to be jerks, and general unpleasantness prevails throughout the land.

Ridley makes a sturdy heroine, even if she’s stuck playing a single noble note. Watts is strong (she’d be an excellent Queen in a straight Shakespeare film), and “Harry Potter” regular Tom Felton is briefly effective as hot-headed Laertes.

Clive Owen is locked in battle with a belligerent wig through most of his performance, but he manages to burn a hole in the screen anyway. Why is this coolest of actors not in more top-line projects?

Director Claire McCarthy captures a handful of intense moments, including the staging of Hamlet’s play-within-the-play as shadow theater. But most of “Ophelia” plays in a generic TV style, a kind of “Game of Thrones Meets the Bard.” Despite the best intentions, it succeeds neither as potboiler nor as quasi-Shakespeare.

“Ophelia” (2 stars)

“Hamlet” re-visited from the perspective of Ophelia (Daisy Ridley), whose concern for the Prince of Denmark (George McKay) gets lost in the nasty royal in-fighting. Some interesting touches along the way, and strong work from Naomi Watts and Clive Owen, but this one succeeds neither as potboiler nor quasi-Shakespeare.

Rating: PG-13, for violence

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