• Australian director Claire McCarthy's Ophelia premiered at Sundance in 2018 (Supplied)Source: Supplied
At Sundance 2018, Australian director Claire McCarthy premiered her sumptuously filmed 'Ophelia', a feminist take on Shakespeare’s Bard.
25 Jan 2018 - 11:17 AM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2018 - 11:41 AM

Claire McCarthy is a flame-headed force to be reckoned with, not unlike Daisy Ridley’s Ophelia in her new sumptuously filmed movie, which world premiered in Sundance this week.

George MacKay (Captain Fantastic) is Hamlet in this version of the story, which is based on Lisa Klein’s book that gives Shakespeare’s play a feminist bent.

Naomi Watts is a standout as Hamlet’s mother Queen Gertrude, who takes Ophelia under her wing and makes her a lady-in-waiting. Watts also plays a dual role as the Queen’s outcast sister.

Interview with Claire McCarthy at Sundance 2018

Hamlet seems just right for a feminist retelling.

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s beloved plays and the things he articulates in the story are sublime. We wanted to be faithful to that but also to re-interpret the story and see it through women’s eyes. So I was really thinking about what Ophelia’s experience would be as second-status person in that realm.

She’s a handmaiden and she’s privy to secrets and taboos that she wouldn't necessarily be able to talk about. The drama is slightly different to the original and hopefully it still has the passion and the themes of the original text but viewed through the prism of her experience.

It’s certainly brighter in its palate than other versions of Hamlet.

I think it’s a fresh canvas. It’s not historically accurate to Denmark. It feels more like a pre- Raphaelite love child in a way with its texture, use of colour, multiple costumes and locations. We wanted young people to feel like they can be invited into the story and connect with the themes, even if they don't know Hamlet. People who are aficionados and know the play really well hopefully can see the delicious sleight of hand where they can go, “Oh I know what you guys are doing there.”

How was it having Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts attached to the film?

They are such wonderful actors and are so collaborative. Daisy has a strength about her which we saw in the Star Wars franchise. She just blew everyone’s socks off. In the original story Ophelia’s almost like a victim, she’s very delicate and kind of becomes undone by love. In our version we wanted her not to be the waif-like, frail, vulnerable woman. There are elements of that, but Daisy also brings her innate strength to the character. Naomi’s so complex and such a wonderful actress. I mean, she’s one of the greats. She’s not afraid and she’s not vain or hung up about anything. She really just wants to go deep into the material and bring something great to the screen.

Your husband (award-winning award-winning cinematographer Denson Baker) shot the movie?

He did. He’s wonderful, he’s such a talented artist and he’s done a beautiful job. We have a good shorthand between us as we’ve worked together on a few things. (Most notably her 2009 feature The Waiting City.) Ophelia has taken a long time. The poor thing hasn't had a day off! It’s been the two of us for years just chatting about how we were going make this movie happen. It feels great to finally be here.

Have you managed to fit in children?

We have. We have a six year-old boy, Pax Baker. He’s a little sweetheart, he’s a really interesting character and he’s in the movie too. He just has a little cameo as a courtier and was very focused about his role and very insistent that he had a credit as well which he did get.

He’s been very supportive. Tonight before we left he said, “I’m very proud of you Mummy,” which means everything to me.

What do you think about George MacKay being cast as Ned Kelly in The True History of the Kelly Gang?

I think it’s brilliant. The guy is legit. He’s just going to go up and up.

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