Can you describe Ophelia in different Hamlet films?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two of the most different Ophelia portrayals are in the Kenneth Branagh version (1996) and the Franco Zeffirelli version (with Mel Gibson, 1990).

In the Branagh version (which is much longer and reads almost line by line with the play) Ophelia comes across as more of a victim.  She is played masterfully by a young Kate Winslet.  One of the best scenes in the movie is her breakdown in Act 4.  Up until this point, a dramatic and flamboyant hero Hamlet has been confusing poor Ophelia with word play, dirty jokes, and dark humor.  When his words speak of love, for example, his facial expressions and body language are obviously full of anger (and sometimes hatred).  Ophelia's character is overriden by the strength of Hamlet's character throughout the film, and portrayed as an innocent victim of Hamlet's madness - and when she finally commits suicide - she truly seems desperate and completely nuts - but it almost seems to come out of nowhere.

In the Zeffirelli version however, Ophelia seems to be more "in the know."  She knows and sees more than the Ophelia in the other film.  In this way, when she goes crazy, it seems more like she acts out of angry rebellion rather than falling prey as a helpless victim.  She is more assertive in Scene 4.  You can see her determination in her eyes.  She does not waver in her speech - nor seem like she's lost her mind.  Rather she seems to very deliberate - and perhaps realizes that as a woman, this is all she can do to get back at those who hurt her so much.