All images screenshots from the DVD Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Warner Home Video, 2007.

HAMLET

For the inspiration of Anna and Gudrun’s Ophelia, see THE ARTS – PAINTING – JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS

Kate Winslett as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet

James Sant, Ophelia

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Ten Chapter 8

The cat jumps off the bed; under the table, it rubs itself on my legs. Anna, her back against the headboard, draws up her legs and hugs her knees.

̶  Snúlli likes you, Sprague. It’s rare she’s affectionate with anyone but me.

She smiles into my eyes: Her gaze is disquieting, there’s an aware sexuality in her charm. I open the box: In one photo after another, in subdued Kodachrome colours, Anna and Gudrun take turns to play the drowned Ophelia: Now submerged in a stream, flower-strewn hair and long white dress flowing in the grassy current, now floating in reedy water, eyes and hands open to heaven, they perform variations on the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of femininity. As I study the images, Anna studies her face in a hand mirror.

̶  They’re really lovely, Anna.
̶  Do you like them?

She takes off her cardigan.

̶  Yes, very much.

With consummate skill she’s captured all the tropes of the romantic myth: still water as a call from the deep, reality yielding to dream, death as sleep.

̶  You’ve mastered light on water, Anna.
̶  You mean I know how to use a polarizing filter.
̶  And the flowers are very well arranged.
̶  Flowers! Snúlli, come!

The cat jumps onto the bed; Anna stretches out her legs and places the animal in her lap. So this is how you manage the ambiguities of adolescence, this is how you cope with its contradictions: Stroking the cat in your lap while Ophelia preserves your innocence, her death arresting you in childhood. Yes, you’ve staged things beautifully; you’ve realized your fantasy of a pure sexuality, a sexuality without the sex: The dead Ophelia, your second twin, never having become a woman, saves you from the violence of becoming one. But your photos are out of date, they don’t fool me: I know that though you be fifteen, you are impatient for deflowering—I can tell by how you blossom in my presence.

̶  Can I make a photo with you, Sprague?
̶  Sure.

She lifts Snúlli from her lap and places her on the bed. The cat jumps off and runs out of the room.

̶  It’s for my diary. Let’s go next door.

Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet in his film of the play

Before the backdrop in the bare room I stand. Anna turns on the lights, looks through the lens, then adjusts the reflectors.

̶  It’s perfect you’re in black. You’re going to play Hamlet.
̶  Oh, really?
̶  Yes. Here, hold Ophelia.

She hands me a blow-up of herself, half-submerged among floating flowers.

̶  Hold it level at your waist.

I do so. She looks through the lens.

̶  No. With your black top we can’t see how long your hair is. Hamlet has to have long hair. Take off your shirt, please.
̶  I say we will have no more marriages.
̶  What?

I pull my Polo over my head and toss it onto a chair.

̶  Those that are married already—all but one—shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.
̶  I’m not going anywhere. Tilt Ophelia up a touch.
̶  Do you have a filter to get rid of the reflection?
̶  Of course. That’s good. Keep that ‘to a nunnery’ expression. Good.

She takes the shot, and another, and another.

̶  Take off your socks.

I take off my socks. She studies me.

̶  Your green eyes are beautiful, Sprague, but they might be deceiving. Hold Ophelia like a mask to your face.

I do so.

̶  Your belt’s perfect. I like the buckle.

She takes the shot, and another, and another.

̶  Thank you.

She turns off the lights.

̶  Now let’s go and see what Gudrun and Marietta are getting up to!

Manet, Portrait of Faure as Hamlet, 1876-77