Czech Locations, Stages Give ‘Hamlet’ Reimagining ‘Ophelia’ a Medieval Look

Cinematographer Denson Baker and director Claire
Courtesy of Dusan Martinicek

The recently wrapped film “Ophelia,” a reimagining of “Hamlet” told from the perspective of one of its most ambivalent and least understood characters, gives its title character “more dimension and gravitas than she was afforded in Shakespeare’s original story,” says director Claire McCarthy.

The feature — the first to be completed by indie production, finance and sales outfit Covert Media — brings Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest whose internal conflicts drive her to madness, to the forefront of the story. The movie was filmed in the Czech Republic at historical locations and in re-created medieval interiors at Barrandov Studios in Prague. Daisy Ridley plays Ophelia as a secret confidante and favorite of Naomi Watts’ Queen Gertrude. George MacKay (“Captain Fantastic”) plays Hamlet.

But it’s the devious Claudius (Clive Owen) who turns the Danish court from a place of beauty and grace — at least in the eyes of Ophelia — into a web of lies soon to be strewn with bodies. Producer Daniel Bobker developed the film based on Lisa Klein’s book exploring Ophelia’s possible offstage life.

Production designer Dave Warren, who created the imposing Great Hall, where Claudius’ crime is slowly unmasked by Hamlet, says the decision to create the space at Barrandov was one driven by a tight shooting schedule and Czech crews with phenomenal art and decor skills.

The production considered using the real-life Krivoklat Castle, he says, but the crew found that a grand hall just as big could be built on a soundstage in part of Barrandov’s popular Novy Haly building.

A chapel at Krivoklat was used for the wedding scene, and additional structures in the town of Kutna Hora were considered. But shooting in castles that are protected monuments greatly limits camera moves and lighting. “Half our schedule we were on soundstages,” says Warren. The decision was also made to add the queen’s antechamber, bath and tower bedroom to the Barrandov set.

As for the Great Hall, it changes with Claudius’ machinations and growing paranoia, the drapery becoming more somber in tone and the shadows lengthening as Ophelia’s initial enchantment with court life evolves into a sense of menace. “Some of the reference here is from a lovely palazzo in Florence,” Warren says, showing off the faux stonework and rich tapestries that surround Gertrude’s chambers.

The worn-looking spaces were wrought with “this idea of faded grandeur — a couple of other queens had this before her.”

Ophelia serves as a breath of fresh air to the nearly imprisoned queen in this telling. Ridley’s character can go outside the castle while Queen Gertrude remains inside.

Cutaway ceilings allow for control of lighting and camera moves on the Barrandov set, lending the moody production the look of a $30 million film, although producers say “Ophelia” cost far less.

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