Tulip Fever

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Tulip Fever

An artist and the woman whose portrait he is painting can fall in love at any time in any place. In Tulip Fever it happens in 17th century Amsterdam when the tulip market soared and plunged in a way that feels just like the frenzy of our contemporary stock market. Sadly, the fact that the film opens with promise and ends in failure must be laid at the feet of writers Deborah Moggach, an experienced writer, and Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love).

Sophie (Alicia Vikander) has outgrown her stay at an orphanage run by the abbess (Judi Dench) who finds her a home and marriage to Cornellis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) who adores her on sight. Sophie, he knows, will be the fine mother of the son they must produce. So right at the start we have Vikander. Waltz, and Dench, each a deserving winner of an academy award in the recent past. How can anything go wrong with that cast?

Cornellis adores Sophie and commissions Jan (Dane De Haan), a promising young artist, to paint a majestic portrait of the couple. Sophie falls in love with Jan and they begin an affair that takes us through 17th century Amsterdam as they indulge themselves. So far so good. Not one of them is a villain and we can root for all.

We absorb a fun bit of history as abbess Judi Dench explains the tulip fever of the time. It’s a moment when the mania for tulips, especially the rare white one with slight red has become the headquarters of the tulip market with men bidding in a frenzied version of today’s high flyers. We are happily absorbed in the culture of ancient Amsterdam (actually filmed in England). Women are invisible; men are tyrannical.

And then the whole thing falls apart in the writing of Deborah Maggach and Tom Stoppard. In a jolt of convoluted reasoning and utterly ridiculous filming, Sophie and Jan will do the standard thing of running away together; but first they will collude with pregnant housemaid, Maria (Holiday Granger) in a thoughtful effort to hurt Cornellis less. This leads to a delivery of the baby scene that is possibly one of the more ridiculous things ever filmed.

The cast is full of fine actors – add Tom Hollander as Dr. Sorgh, the delivery doctor – and it is a lethal act to all of them to force them to undermine their reputations with the prolonged silliness of two women screaming in pain – one real, one fake – while the happy father stands on the other side of the door. As much as I hate to savage a movie, this is one that begins with promise and ends in absurdity.

The word is out that it took several years along with cast changes and rewrites to make Tulip Fever. What was Tom Stoppard thinking? Given the fine quality of all the actors we can only wish they had quit while they were ahead.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Tulip Fever
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : September 17, 2017


This review was posted on September 17, 2017, in Drama, Romance.

Their Finest

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Their Finest

With Their Finest, Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Sherfig have created a superb dream of a long ago time. Against the backdrop of England under attack in 1940, they show us the British living their daily lives calmly, interrupted repeatedly by air raid sirens that send them to underground shelter. At the center of it all is actor Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole who carries the story with absolute calm and sharp intelligence.

In this dark time of the German air raids, a group of writers gathers each day to make movies to aid the war effort. What can they do, they wonder aloud, to help lure America into the war at just the time when the battle of Dunkirk has told Britain they are not strong enough to win the war against the Nazis.

They will make a movie about Dunkirk. Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the aging matinee idol whose ego grows more fragile in the face of anyone else’s success, is temperamental but determined. He and Buckley (Sam Claflin) hire Catrin (Gemma Arterton) to do secretarial jobs that will free them to write. Repeatedly, Catrin delivers several pages at a time that convince them she must be the main writer with Buckley.

Catrin upends the whole challenge by wanting to write about the roles women are playing in the war rather than focusing on heroes – “A lot of men are scared we won’t go back into our boxes when this is over” she says with great foresight. After the near catastrophe of Dunkirk, the challenge is how to lure America into the war. With 90 million Americans watching movies, she says, “we need a story to inspire a nation.”

Making their movie is the core of the plot but something much deeper than that sinks into those of us who are watching. We are silenced in admiration at their skill in creating time and place. Even the relationship developing between Carin and Buckley is minor next to the portrait they paint of London under daily bombings.

The moment the sirens start, Londoners leave homes and jobs quietly for their nearby shelters where they sit in silent acceptance until the all clear sends them back to work and home. We see the awful damage after each bombing and feel the impending loss of their country. We think again about Churchill’s prolonged visit to F.D.R. that was so key to America’s entry into the war. What would have happened without that visit?

This is a fine movie made compelling by texture. We feel the dark gray atmosphere, the silence created by fear, a capital destroyed by bombs, a leader determined to get help and a handful of sharp portraits of determination to survive. It stays with us because it is so quietly and carefully imagined by fine writers and actors and a director who knew exactly how to salute the quiet bravery of a city under attack more than seventy years ago.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Their Finest
Word Count : 498
Running time : 1:50
Rating : R
Date : August 13, 2017