Tulip Fever (2017)

December 2nd, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Justin Chadwick; Cast: Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane de Haan, Judi Dench, Holliday Granger, Tom Hollander; USA/UK 2015, 110 min.

Based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach and written by Tom Stoppard, Tulip Fever is a story of a loveless marriage and a disillusioned romantic set against the tulip mania that raged in the first half of the 17th century. Moggach was inspired by the Dutch paintings of the Golden Age, and the film evokes their opulent yet lugubrious surroundings.

The background to this intimate drama is the speculative madness of “tulip fever”: rare bulbs are bought and sold in frenzied bidding, their value often exceeding gold.

A fascinating film could be made this Seventeenth Century Amsterdam’s equivalent of the South Sea Bubble and the Wall Street Crash, but this isn’t it.

The troubled production was charted in the press like that of Cleopatra’ over half a century earlier and, rather like that, the end result is good-looking (the tulips standing out from the general murk as little splashes of colour like the fish in ‘Rumble Fish’) but garrulous and uninvolving; but mercifully a lot shorter.

Being a twenty-first century historical film it contains plenty of unsexy sex and vertiginous steadicam photography; and as in ‘Cleopatra’s day a big historical epic wasn’t complete without a cameo by Finlay Currie, so the cast today inevitably includes Judi Dench.

The camera hovers moodily over the dark interiors, the narrow alleyways and canals seem to be all like traps, it is never really light, the weather seems to be foul all the time – creating a mood of morbidity, in spite of the wealth displayed. Vikander is brilliant in her mood changes, her intimate scenes contrast vividly with manic plotting; in the end, when cornered, she runs wild like a woman possessed.

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