Ophelia Parent Guide
To be or not to be, that is the question...
Parent Movie Review
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and Ophelia (Mia Quiney/Daisy Ridley) is painfully aware of the moral corruption permeating the castle of Elsinore. Daughter to king’s counselor Polonius (Dominic Mafham), the motherless girl was taken under the wing of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) and raised in the palace. Now a lady-in-waiting, Ophelia is witness to the queen’s secrets and the covetousness of the king’s brother (Clive Owen). When Prince Hamlet (George McKay) returns home from university upon the death of his father and falls in love with Ophelia, the young couple are trapped in a web of passion, treachery, and vengeance.
With this film, director Claire McCarthy retells William Shakespeare’s famed tragedy, Hamlet, from the perspective of Ophelia. But she does not merely wrap the familiar tale in pink ribbons; it has been reworked and the narrative line altered to bring in messages of female power and agency as well as a strong warning against violence. As Ophelia says, “Not every story must end in a battle.” For her, wit and courage are more valuable than force of arms, and these values direct her course.
For a movie with a strong anti-violence message, Ophelia certainly has gore aplenty. The story is chock-full of murder, poison, swordfights, and even an invasion. As with most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, a not inconsiderable number of main characters wind up dead, sometimes in pools of their own blood. Poisons and unnamed potions play significant parts in the plot and characters use them to numb their own feelings, to induce comas, and to kill. Also of concern to parents and teachers will be a honeymoon scene which involves a couple in various states of undress kissing and embracing. There is no explicit nudity, but the activity is clear. What makes this scene less objectionable for a teen audience is that the principal emotion here is tenderness rather than lust. If teens are going to see sensual content on screen, at the very least it should be marital and infused with love and commitment.
Negative content aside, there is much to say in this film’s favor. It’s lushly produced and easy to watch, with imposing sets and elaborate costumes. The script eschews Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter for modern English and although it borrows lines from Hamlet on occasion, viewers will find Ophelia much easier to follow than the works of the Bard. It should not replace Hamlet but it makes an excellent companion piece, especially for teachers trying to keep a classroom of bored teenagers interested enough to have meaningful discussions on the tale of the doomed prince of Denmark.
The best reason to watch this movie is the character of Ophelia herself. Daisy Ridley gives viewers a fierce protagonist, led by her own convictions and determined to maintain her integrity. Her courage and insistence on following her own inner light make her a living example of her father’s advice: “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.”Directed by Claire McCarthy. Starring Daisy Ridley, George McKay, Clive Owen, Naomi Watts. Running time: 106 minutes. Theatrical release July 1, 2021. Updated October 2, 2021
Watch the trailer for Ophelia
Rating & Content Info
Why is Ophelia rated PG-13? Ophelia is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for a scene of violence/bloody images, some sensuality, and thematic elements
Violence: There is mention of a man being cursed and attacked by hounds. Men have a swordfight in a non-combat setting. A man dies of snake bite off-screen; his dead body is later seen being prepared for burial. Actors depict a murder. A king orders people to be hanged. A man is seen in a pool of blood after being stabbed. A man plots to have another thrown overboard from a ship. A man gropes a woman who fights back. A woman fakes her own death and is later disinterred from her grave. A swordfight results in several deaths, one of them very bloody. A military invasion results in deaths. A main character swallows poison and dies.
Sexual Content: A man passionately kisses a woman married to another man. A man and woman kiss on several occasions. Men threaten a woman in a sexual manner. A man calls a woman a whore. There is a carefully shot honeymoon scene where a woman’s bare back is visible as is a man’s back and torso. The couple are shown kissing and embracing.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A main character mixes an unknown substance into a drink; it could be an opiate. People drink wine at social occasions. There is an oblique reference to hangovers. People use potions to put them into comas. Poisons are used to kill.
Page last updated October 2, 2021
Ophelia Parents' Guide
What decisions push the outcome of the story towards tragedy and away from a “happily ever after”? What could Hamlet have done differently at inflection points in the story? Could Ophelia have made choices that would have averted tragedy? Do you agree with the choices she made?
How does this story differ from the plot in Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Why do you think director Claire McCarthy diverged from the play on those points? What messages arise from this film that aren’t found in the play? Do you agree with this perspective? Do you think audiences in Shakespeare’s time would have appreciated it?
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Hamlet has frequently been adapted for film. Leading Shakespearean actor Sir Kennth Branagh stars as the melancholy prince in the 1996 adaptation. Mel Gibson takes the lead in director Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 production. David Tennant gets out of the TARDIS and into the Royal Shakespeare Company’s TV version in 2009. Fans of classic films can also watch Sir Laurence Olivier emote in the 1948 film.
Shakespeare’s own life is explored in a highly speculative biopic. Starring Kenneth Branagh, All Is True covers the last years of the great playwright’s life.
Claire McCarthy isn’t the only director to adapt a Shakespearean story. Elements of Hamlet abound, cropping up in The Lion King and the Star Wars series. Gnomeo and Juliet is a goofy animated spin on the tale of Romeo and Juliet. (The classic love story also gets a modern day setting in 1996’s Romeo & Juliet.) She’s the Man resets Twelfth Night in a boarding school.