Susan Granger’s review of “Tulip Fever” (The Weinstein Company/Paramount Pictures)
Filmed in 2014, then shelved, this costume drama fails on almost all levels, despite a prestigious cast that includes three Oscar-winners: Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander and Judi Dench.
So what went wrong?
Supposedly based on a true story, the romance revolves around Sophia (Vikander), an orphan raised in a convent where the feisty Abbess (Dench) arranges her marriage to elderly widower Cornelis Sandvoort (Waltz), a wealthy merchant who desperately wants an heir.
As time goes by, Sophia is unable to get pregnant. So when vain Cornelis hires aspiring artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of him and his lovely ‘trophy’ wife, Sophia and Jan fall in love.
Complications arise when Sophia’s saucy servant Maria (Holliday Grainger) becomes pregnant by the fishmonger Willem (Jack O’Connell), threatening to blackmail Sophia by revealing her adulterous trysts.
What’s galling is that this inane soap opera is set in 17th century Amsterdam, where a commodities exchange once revolved around exotic tulip bulbs, the most prized being the mutants with irregularly striped petals. Fortunes were made and lost in “Tulip Mania.” That’s where the real drama takes place.
According to Skidmore Professor Mehmet Odekon’s financial encyclopedia “Booms and Busts,” this was the first significant, speculative ‘bubble’ in European financial history, damaging the Dutch economy for many years.
Despite elegant efforts from cinematographer Eigil Bryld and production designer Simon Elliott, director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) fails to capture the blooming fervor of this historic context, relegating it to background.
Worse yet, he’s unable to generate heat among the three principals, ceding all sexual tension to the supporting players – with Jan’s drunken pal Gerrit (Zach Galifianakis) supplying hollow humor.
Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks first optioned British novelist Deborah Moggach’s 1999 best-seller, planning to pair Natalie Portman with Jude Law at Pinewood Studios in the U.K. – until British Chancellor Gordon Brown abruptly closed the tax loophole funding films.
Then several years passed before Harvey Weinstein hired playwright Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”) to adapt Deborah Moggach’s script with all its dreadful dialogue. And Ms. Moggach can be spotted as an ‘extra,’ an old lady, drinking beer and puffing on a clay pipe, in the tavern.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Tulip Fever” is a tasteless, torpid 3, wilting as it unfolds.