Tulip Fever (3 stars)

Tulip Fever

Superficially entertaining yet tonally odd adaptation, featuring Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz

Originally scheduled for release in 2015, Tulip Fever is a curious hybrid in which frantic farce and tragic romance make for uncomfortable bedfellows. The quality of the cast and the level of craftsmanship ensure a superficially entertaining film, but you suspect it could have been so much more.

Deborah Moggach has adapted her novel for screen with Tom Stoppard and it often looks a treat. 17th century Amsterdam is recreated in treacly dark interiors and teeming streets full of traders hawking everything from barrels of nutmeg to baskets of freshly caught fish. The orphaned Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is married to wealthy older merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) and feels obliged to reward his kindness by bearing him an heir. Their endless nightly exertions have thus far been in vain. Sophia has retreated into a dutiful, numbed obedience until Sandvoort hires penniless artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a family portrait. A spark of attraction blossoms into a passionate, clandestine affair.

There are echoes of Girl with a Pearl Earring in the look and spirit of the film but director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) seems intent on haring through a complex plot that also involves maid Maria (Holliday Grainger) and her romantic travails with fishmonger Willem (Jack O'Connell). The backdrop to all this is a booming market in tulip bulbs that has all the intensity of a stock market in free fall. Chadwick reflects the hysteria of the period with restless camerawork, garbled dialogue, sharp editing and bawdy comic elements (including Tom Hollander's lusty Dr Sorgh) that are played at a Carry On pitch.

The end result never finds the space to breathe and the solemnity of the central romance crumbles away beneath comic capers, plot twists and a disappointing lack of chemistry between the leads.

General release from Fri 7 Dec.

Tulip Fever

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • Directed by: Justin Chadwick
  • Cast: Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz, Jack O'Connell, Judi Dench
  • UK release: 7 December 2018

Sophia (Vikander) is married to elderly Cornelis (Waltz) but they can’t conceive a child; then he hires penniless artist Jan (DeHaan) to paint her, and she and Jan begin an affair. It’s a lovely recreation of 17th century Amsterdam, but Chadwick buries the story in restless camerawork, garbled dialogue and bawdy comic…

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