TULIP FEVER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Justin Chadwick
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, Holliday Grainger, Jack O’Connell, Judi Dench, Cara Delevingne, Tom Hollander, Kevin McKidd,  Matthew Morrison, Zach Galifianakis, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood.

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This melodramatic bodice ripper period romantic drama is set in Amsterdam in 1634. Tulips were very much prized and a source of great wealth in the market place. Playing out against this backdrop of a strong economic bubble and flourishing commodities market is a more formulaic story of romance, sex, betrayal, greed and deception.

Sophia (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander) has been raised in an orphanage, where the pipe smoking abbess (Oscar winner Judi Dench) seems to have a key role to play in the growth of the tulip market where fortunes can be made or lost. Sophia has been married off to the widowed Cornelis Sandvoort (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz), a wealthy spice merchant. All Cornelis wants is a son and heir to carry on the family legacy. But when Sophia seems unable to fall pregnant, Cornelis commissions impoverished artist Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan, from The Place Beyond The Pines, etc) to paint a portrait of the couple.

Van Loos and Sophia embark on a torrid affair behind Cornelis’ back. Van Loos then hatches a desperate plot to allow Sophia to escape from her loveless marriage and run away with him to begin a new life. Caught up in the plot is Sophia’s loyal maid Maria (Holliday Grainger), who is in love with local fishmonger Will (Jack O’Connell). Maria’s own pregnancy plays a key role in the deception, as does the volatile tulip market.

Tulip Fever is based on the best-selling 1999 novel written by Deborah Moggach, whose novel These Foolish Things was adapted for the screen as the feel good The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The screenplay has been written by Moggach herself and acclaimed playwright and Oscar winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare In Love, etc). Surprisingly though, given Stoppard’s impressive reputation as a wordsmith, this is quite a dull film. Some of the dialogue is wooden and cliched and falls flat. The central scenario requires a healthy suspension of disbelief and often plays out like a bad farce.

The director is Justin Chadwick, who previously gave us the sumptuous looking period piece The Other Boleyn Girl), and here again his attention to recreating the authentic period detail is evocative. But while the first half of the film is quite engaging, the second half falls apart with lots of busy subplots and characters that ultimately make little sense. Chadwick’s direction is laboured, and the film is unevenly paced.

However, Tulip Fever looks good as Chadwick and his cinematographer Eigil Bryld capture the crowded bustling streets and market places and canals of Amsterdam. Michael O’Connor’s costumes, the superb atmospheric setting, and Simon Elliott’s handsome production design are all exquisite, and Danny Elfman provides a typically lush score.

The first class cast features three Oscar winning performers, but even they can’t manage to lift the film to great heights. There is a lack of genuine chemistry between De Haan and Vikander that hampers the romance, and there is no palpable spark between the pair. DeHaan looks a little like a younger Leonardo Di Caprio, but he lacks sexual charisma, and struggles to make his character credible. Waltz plays yet another variation of his fatuous noble, but his turn here as the cuckolded husband is nowhere near as villainous as usual, but instead comes across as more sympathetic and nuanced. Zach Galifianakis plays it straight here as Gerrit, Van Loos’ alcoholic and buffoonish manservant, while Cara Delevingne (who appeared opposite De Haan in the bloated and messy sci-fi adventure Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets) plays a prostitute, and Tom Hollander plays the ethics challenged Dr Sorgh.

Tulip Fever was something of a troubled production, and it has apparently sat on the shelf for three years while it was reedited according to the wishes of producer Harvey Weinstein. This is the last film released by Weinstein’s company before he became engulfed in the sex scandal that has almost sunk his career and reputation.

★★☆

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