Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Fanny as Ophelia

Ophelia is a painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851 and 1852. Currently held in the Tate Britain in London, it depicts Ophelia, a character from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, singing before she drowns in a river in Denmark.

Ophelia has fallen into the river from a tree overhanging it, while gathering flowers. She lies in the water singing songs, as if unaware of her danger ("incapable of her own distress"). Her clothes, trapping air, have allowed her to temporarily stay afloat ("Her clothes spread wide, / And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up."). But eventually, "her garments, heavy with their drink, / Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay" down "to muddy death."

Ophelia's death has been praised as one of the most poetically written death scenes in literature.

At a secluded spot close to Easton Grey, in the beautiful, deep green countryside of North Wiltshire, Fanny decided to re-enact Ophelia.  It was a wonderful, sunny day in late June.  We arrived in my classical green Rolls Royce, parking almost 1 mile away and making our way by foot along the Fosse Way.   I was wearing a simple white 1950s evening gown, with my couturier carrying a dressing-gown and assortment of towels.  

We had a team of photographers on the banks of the River Avon, as well as one underwater.  As someone deeply concerned by art and beauty, I wanted to make a powerful statement.   Here are some pictures:

Ophelia's pose—her open arms and upwards gaze—also resembles traditional portrayals of saints or martyrs, but has also been interpreted as erotic.   This is something I simulated.  It felt a defining moment to be in this beautiful, tiny river, surrounded by nature, just drifting.

The concept of drowning and the death of beauty and romance has been captured many times since Ophelia, in cinema and music.  The piece of music which I believe most encapsulates a modern-reworking of Ophelia is the little-known song, Drowning, by All About Eve.   Here is the music:  

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