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‘Ophelia’: What a piece of work is the woman who loves Hamlet

The lady-in-waiting, played by the magnetic Daisy Ridley, moves to center stage in a beautifully photographed but over-the-top twist on Shakespeare.

Daisy Ridley (left) stars in the title role of “Ophelia,” with Naomi Watts as her employer, Gertrude.
IFC

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” – Gertrude to the title character in “Ophelia.”

Don’t be so quick to discount the possibility, Gertrude. That Shakespeare fellow had a way with ghosting, so to speak.

Meet Ophelia — or should we say, do you remember Ophelia?

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” she was the daughter of Polonius, the sister of Laertes — and the love interest of the title character, who was so busy trying to figure out what to do while struggling to maintain his sanity, poor Ophelia never stood a chance.

In director Claire McCarthy’s beautifully photographed and impressively staged but convoluted and over-the-top “Ophelia,” the title character moves from the supporting ranks and takes center stage. (Shades of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Except that was much the superior effort.)

With an intriguing premise, the magnetic Daisy Ridley (Rey in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy) in the lead and a stellar supporting cast including Naomi Watts in a dual role, “Ophelia” has its moments of inspiration and beauty.

It also flies off the rails more than once — often when the great Clive Owen, saddled with one of the most unfortunate wigs in recent motion picture history, arrives on the scene as the scheming and villainous Claudius, and chews up the screen with all the subtlety of Joey Chestnut in a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s.

Clive Owen checks his subtlety at the door to play Claudius in “Ophelia.”
IFC

“You may think you know my story,” says Ophelia in opening voice-over narration. “Many have told it. It has long passed into history, into myth. … I have seen more of heaven and hell than most people dream of…”

All right, so it’s a popcorn movie!

The headstrong Ophelia, who often looks like a goddess dropped on Earth as the sun frames her ginger hair and angelic face — she’s also dipped in water, the better to shimmer, so many times I lost count — is a lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), who loves Ophelia like a daughter but later turns against Ophelia and adamantly opposes any hint of a romance between her son Hamlet (George MacKay) and this girl.

Meanwhile, Ophelia strikes up a friendship with the mysterious witch/advisor Mechtild (also played by Watts), a newly invented character who is the sister of Gertrude, and no doubt Watts had much fun playing the queenly queen AND her crazy-ass doppelganger.

Much of “Ophelia” consists of the characters skulking about nooks and crannies of the castle, plotting and planning and double-crossing and maybe even triple-crossing. (In one of the movie’s silliest scenes, Ophelia and Hamlet pretend to have a fight because they know they’re being spied on — so they alternate between yelling at one another and stage-whispering for long stretches, as if THAT isn’t going to raise any suspicions from the antagonist hiding in the wings.)

With an admittedly infectious New Age score often pounding home points already made obvious, “Ophelia” shifts into a whole other gear of nuttiness in the final act, as Ophelia goes mad and Hamlet goes mad and Gertrude seems on the brink of going mad and Mechtild storms the castle in mad fashion — but perhaps not is all as it seems, particularly when it comes to our girl Ophelia!

We even get a plot twist (not in the original play) straight out of a lurid crime thriller from the 1980s. Oh, and another twist in which Ophelia disguises herself as a boy but still looks exactly like Ophelia — and yet when she comes face to face with Claudius, he calls her “boy” and is completely fooled.

Maybe he was blinded by that horrific wig.