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