Saturday, March 22, 2014

IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Tennant (2009)

Penny Downie is a most vulnerable Gertrude, running in covered in a black shroud, with no make-up, as if having just been awakened with this news. She's actually caught out by Laertes' simple question "where?", hesitating as if she wasn't expecting him to ask. She reaches for the details, possibly inventing them based on the rough outline she's been given, perhaps hoping it actually happened as she tells it, and at times, regretting her choice of words. For example, she seems disturbed by her realization that long purples are also called dead men's fingers. The emphasis brings to the fore the idea that Ophelia is in a way in her dead father's grip, the flowery metaphor turning macabre and dragging her down to her death, in an echo of Hamlet Sr.'s ghostly manifestations. Ophelia, the female (and thus socially powerless) Hamlet, isn't visited by the specter of her father, except in this image.

Claudius seems stunned by the whole affair. Not just Gertrude's story, but Laertes' weepy reaction as well. It's true that he surprisingly lets them speak without ever interjecting, even though Ophelia's death may affect his plans. At most, he seems tired. When Gertrude reaches out for comfort, he fails to notice her gesture and instead rebukes her for what Laertes might now do. She's shaken by how little he cares about her or Ophelia, and how much he cares for his own safety.

One last note, about the director and cinematographer's intent. While Gertrude speaks, the camera moves to a slightly overhead angle so the black polished floor can take on the properties of a murky reflective pool, bringing the muddy brook into the room. It's a neat piece of staging, but not as obvious as the production would have liked it, I think. Still, an element to steal and realize better in future adaptations.

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