Tulip Fever
dir Justin Chadwick
scr Deborah Moggach, Tom Stoppard
prd Alison Owen, Harvey Weinstein
with Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Holliday Grainger, Jack O'Connell, Judi Dench, Tom Hollander, Zach Galifianakis, Matthew Morrison, David Harewood, Kevin McKidd, Cara Delevingne
release US 1.Sep.17, UK 7.Dec.18
17/UK Paramount 1h45
Tulip Fever
Family portrait: Vikander and Waltz

dehaan grainger oconnell
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Tulip Fever Set amid the exploding tulip trade in 1637 Holland, this finely crafted period film looks fantastic and boasts a seriously high-powered cast, all of whom bring energy to their complex characters. But the narrative structure never quite develops a clear perspective, which leaves the multiple story strands at odds with each other. At least the script crackles with life, even if it tends to get a bit messy.

A savvy tulip-breeding abbess (Dench) sends orphan Sophia (Sophia) to Amsterdam to marry the wealthy Cornelis (Waltz). But three years later, they're still struggling to conceive a child. Then Cornelis hires young artist Jan (DeHaan) to paint their portrait, and he of course falls for Sophia. Meanwhile, her maid Maria (Grainger) is enjoying a raucous romance with spirited fishmonger-turned-tulip trader Willem (O'Connell). Maria's unexpected pregnancy leads to a crazy idea, conspiring with a lecherous doctor (Hollander) to pretend that it's actually Sophia who's with child.

The screen is over-crowded with characters, and the sequences set in the bustling tulip market are rather uninteresting, straining to echo the free-wheeling stock market during the dot-com bubble (Moggach's novel was published in a more timely 1999). Thankfully, Moggach and Stoppard give these talented actors terrific dialog to work with, offering witty observations along with some surging emotions. This helps make the film more than a bodice-ripping sex farce, which it often feels like. At other times, it seems more like a slick period piece or tiresomely predictable caper.

Vikander is solid as a young woman in a convenient if unexciting marriage, although she never develops any chemistry with DeHaan, despite spending rather a lot of time naked together. Waltz's charming Cornelis is far more likeable than the vapid Jan, which throws the story off-balance. O'Connell brings superb swagger to his role, making Willem perhaps the most interesting person on-screen, even as his subplot gets lost in the shuffle. This leaves the excellent but perhaps too-sweet Grainger to take over the film.

There's definitely the sense that this was a troubled production, as character strands seem to have been choppily edited (for example with Dench boosted and Galifianakis truncated). And that nagging tulip business keeps interrupting the story, leaving it inert just when other things start to become interesting. Even so, there's plenty here to hold the attention, including some terrific actors in bit roles. And as the various storylines collide in the final half-hour things get dramatically twisty and even rather nasty.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 23.Nov.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall