Tulip Fever

September 1, 2017

in Movies

Film (2017)

Directed by Justin Chadwick

Screenplay Tom Stoppard and Deborah Moggach
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Music by Danny Elfman; Cinematography by Eigil Bryld; Film Editing by Rick Russell; Production Design by Simon Elliott

With Alicia Vikander (Sophia Sandvoort), Dane DeHaan (Jan Van Loos), Christoph Waltz (Cornelis Sandvoort), Judi Dench (Abbess), Jack O’Connell (Willem Brok), Holliday Grainger (Maria), Tom Hollander (Dr Sorgh), Zach Galifianakis (Gerrit)

Alicia Vikander as Sophia Sandvoort in 'Tulip Fever'

Alicia Vikander as Sophia Sandvoort
in “Tulip Fever”
Image: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

A romantic drama set in The Netherlands of the mid-seventeenth century when painters were prolific and rapidly inflated tulip bulbs became worth fortunes overnight.

Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is an orphan who has entered into marriage with a much older nobleman in exchange for rights of her relatives to travel to the New World. She is a dutiful wife though clearly not deeply in love with her husband, Cornelis (Christoph Waltz), who wants her mostly for her potential as a mother of an heir. Time and time again they try, painfully, to conceive, without success. Meanwhile, the lively maid Maria (Holiday Grainger) and her fishmonger boyfriend, Willem (Jack O’Connell), seem to have no trouble in that department. Along comes a portrait painter, Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), young, inspired and passionate, and of course he and Sophia enter into more than a painterly engagement which gives rise to a very complicated intrigue involving the maid, an heir and the possibility of a solution. Meanwhile, tulips get sold at higher and higher prices, the mania rising like the stock market of 2000, 2008, or, hmmm, today.

More likely than not, put Alicia Vikander in front of a camera and you have magic. She has everything one wants to watch – persuasive good looks, a refined subtlety of expression, and a passionate disposition that rises to boiling at just the right intervals. So, why not situate her in a Dutch landscape and make her paramour a Vermeer-type who can capture every nuance of her glistening visage and at the same time take her into the hayloft and go well beyond the subtlety of shading and depiction?

Add a great and complicated actor like Christoph Waltz as her aging husband and you have a perfect setup. Waltz is by historic disposition the bearer of wacky personas. One almost expects him to go into a manic paradise just on the basis of his previous screen credentials. But here he manages something infinitely more subtle and interesting – the portrayal of a potentially aloof, distant and unlikable husband who manages, despite his worst inclinations, to love his wife. What a great setup for a devastating psychological outcome.

Indeed, the plot, clearly honed by plot-meister Tom Stoppard, has enough twists and turns to keep one intrigued. Meanwhile, whenever the intertwining love stories begin to flag, the tulip mania takes over and provides enough economic drama to keep things steaming along.

Even though this confluence of Vermeer portraiture and tulip fever is historically accurate there is somehting bizarre about the way the two narratives intersect. The love pentagon could have survived on its own with enough local Dutch color to keep things exciting. It’s not clear why the whole tulip thing has to be here at all. Nonetheless, it is, and it forms some piece of what become the rag-to-riches plot points. Those plot points, however, seem oddly secondary to the main love story and ultimately provide a heated distraction rather than enhancing it.

Vikander is great, Waltz is great, and Judi Dench, as an abbess who shows up at beginning and end, is of course great. Dane DeHaan, a young Leonardo di Caprio type, fills in nicely as the painter-paramour, and Holliday Grainger as the maid, Maria, and Jack O’Connell as her fishmonger boyfriend manage to move along just fine. Zach Galifianakis as Gerrit, the painter’s gofer, is boisterous but no big deal. Tom Hollander as Dr. Sorgh is effectively slimy.

The inner story here actually has some heft but it gets confused by the tulip fever thing. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Stoppard doing quite well here. When he attempted to adapt Anna Karenina a few years ago, even with a stellar cast and a good director, the result was not happy. Tulip Fever has some of the flavor and complexity of Stoppard’s masterful Shakespeare in Love, though by no means as good overall. Nevertheless, except for a few weak narrative points for which the film has been excessively raked over the coals, it is quite well written, and the addition of wonderful actors like Vikander, Waltz and Dench, makes a quite tasty and interesting brew.

– BADMan

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