Directed by: Justin Chadwick | 101 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell, Holliday Grainger, Tom Hollander, Matthew Morrison, Kevin McKidd, Douglas Hodge, Joanna Scanlan, Zach Galifianakis, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, David Harewood, Alexandra Gilbreath, Cara Delevingne, Sebastian Armesto, Michael Nardone, Richard Alan Reid, Cornelius Booth, Cressida Bonas, Michael Smiley, James Dryden, Daisy Chadwick
The tulip is one of the most Dutch symbols out there. And that while the flower originally does not come from here at all. Traders took the bulbs from Turkey from the second half of the sixteenth century, heralding the beginning of European tulip cultivation. Decades later, in the Golden Age, tulip bulb prices reached extreme heights. The record amount for which a single bulb was disposed of is 3,000 guilders for the purple and white parrot tulip Viceroi, in 1636. Of that money the buyer also had “two cartloads of wheat, four cartloads of rye, four fat oxen, eight fat pigs, twelve fat sheep, two barrels of wine, four barrels of beer, two barrels of butter, a thousand pounds of cheese, a bed, a silver chalice, a number of articles of clothing and a ship ”, as stated in the pamphlet ‘Claere ontdeckingh der dwaesheydt’. In January 1637, tulip bulbs were worth about as much as an Amsterdam canal house! There was also speculation in options on tulips, which were still in the ground at that time. The tulip mania is now seen as the first economic bubble in world history.
That bulb craze from the Dutch Golden Age forms the background of the film ‘Tulip Fever’ (2017), a romantic drama by director Justin Chadwick, the man who has proven himself to be very good at costume drama with ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ (2008). being able. The screenplay was written by Tom Stoppard – who won an Oscar for ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998) – after a novel by Deborah Moggach. In Amsterdam in the 1630s, the 17-year-old orphaned girl Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is married off by the superior of the monastery where she lives (played by none other than Dame Judi Dench) to the much older but wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christophe Waltz ). He longs for an heir, but Sophia refuses to get pregnant. In order to provide some form of legacy, Cornelis asks the young painter Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to immortalize them and his beautiful wife on the silver screen. It never crosses his mind that Sophia might fall head over heels in love with the painter and hatch a plan to escape her loveless marriage.
Maria (Holliday Grainger), the housemaid of the Sandvoort household who gets along well with Sophia, is meanwhile getting along with fishmonger Willem (Jack O’Connell) and the two have big plans together. Willem speculates on the tulip market, and does so not without merit; he hopes to have enough money soon to start a new life and marry Maria. Due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, however, things turn out differently and Maria is unintentionally drawn into Jan and Sophia’s plans.
Tulip Fever had been shelved for years and should have been made into a film in 2004, starring Keira Knightley, Jim Broadbent and Jude Law in the lead roles, John Madden as director and Steven Spielberg as producer. However, a new tax measure in Great Britain, where the recordings were to take place, threw a spanner in the works. Ten years later, it was the much-discussed Harvey Weinstein who breathed new life into the project. The release of the movie has been postponed several times, which is usually not a good sign; almost two years after its original release date, the film finally went into circulation. ‘Tulip Fever’ looks to be put through a ring. The costumes, hair and make-up, sets, production design and music; it has all been worked out with great care and an eye for detail. And even though the film was shot entirely in Great Britain, 17th-century Amsterdam is credibly portrayed. With three Oscar-winning actors on board – Dench, Vikander and Waltz – there’s little to complain about.
At least, you would think so. ‘Tulip Fever’, however, does not make sense, especially when it comes to screenplay and casting. The biggest stumbling block is the total lack of chemistry between Vikander and DeHaan. The passion should burst from the two, but we don’t see any of that in the film. Since the romance between Sophia and Jan is the catalyst of the story, the film comes to a halt before it even gets underway. It is also difficult for us to empathize with this couple; we feel more sympathetic to Cornelis, who is perhaps deadly boring – and addresses his genitals as ‘my little soldier’ - but loves his wife dearly. For the romance, we prefer to look to Maria and Willem, who do create a credible couple in love. The scenario also rattles a few things; the story does have a lot of coincidence and improbabilities and Sophia and Jan’s plan is rather ludicrous. The dialogues mainly explain a lot, while the images speak for themselves, and therefore do not add much.
‘Tulip Fever’ could have been a beautiful costume drama, in which a fascinating glimpse into seventeenth-century Holland is given and in which the very first economic bubble of all time has a prominent role. With top actors, including three Oscar winners, in the ranks in a beautiful, meticulous production. Unfortunately, ‘Tulip Fever’ is not. Many conditions have been met, but the most important thing – a credible plot and a compelling romance – are unfortunately missing.