by Peter J. O'Connell
Tulip Fever. Released: Sept. 2017. Runtime: 105 mins. MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and nudity.
Two kinds of fever interact in director Justin Chadwick's Tulip Fever, based on Deborah Moggach's novel. One is the eponymous flower frenzy of the 1630s in Holland. As a voiceover at the beginning of the movie explains: “ . . . Amsterdam was captivated by a flower: the tulip. They came from far away in the East and were so rare and beautiful that people lost their senses in wanting to own them. Rich and poor were spending and borrowing money to join the trade in bulbs, which were going up in price all the time.” Of course, going up, until they crashed. Tulip fever was famously chronicled in Charles Mackay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
The other fever in the film is hot romance. The interaction of the two fevers is presented in a plot of Shakespearean-type complications involving identity deceptions and in a production design reminiscent of paintings by the Bruegels, Jan Steen, and Vermeer.
Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is a beautiful young woman, an orphan raised in a convent and married off to Cornelis (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy older merchant. Cornelis longs for a child, but Alicia does not become pregnant. When Cornelis hires a young artist, Jan (Dane DeHaan), to paint his and Sophia's portrait, a love affair develops between Jan and Sophia. The situation becomes complex when Maria (Holliday Grainger), Sophia's unmarried maid, becomes pregnant, and Jan and Sophia decide to enter into the tulip market to finance their escape together from Amsterdam.
The premise of Tulip Fever is an interesting one. Unfortunately, Chadwick's direction of the movie lacks a key component: fever. Neither the passionate plot of romance nor that of financial frenzy is brought to life with sufficient intensity, despite a cast whose work in other films has been quite noteworthy.