Uninspired adaptation of Strindberg's play, with Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell
Her name synonymous with the intense psychodramas of Ingmar Bergman, actress-turned-director Liv Ullmann seems well placed to adapt and steer this latest film version of August Strindberg’s 1888 play, here relocated from Sweden to Ireland. Jessica Chastain replaces original choice Michelle Williams as the eponymous heroine, and Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton provide capable support, yet the film flounders due to a painfully glum disposition.
Miss Julie (Chastain) lives in opulent style with her father, who's never seen and referred to only as 'the Baron'. On the night of the Midsummer's Eve revels – again un-glimpsed in Ullmann’s version – flighty Julie and her grasping valet John (Farrell) engage in a long, bright night of wooing and feuding – featuring sex, wine-drinking, boot-kissing, foot-kissing and all manner of hysterical outbursts. Julie is bored with living in her father’s shadow, while John is both contemptuous and envious of her upbringing and wealth. The coupling of the two, also unseen, causes considerable angst, particularly to John’s jilted cook lover Kathleen (Morton), and Julie begins to fear her escape may never happen.
Choosing not to depict the action hinted at in the play, Ullmann focuses instead on the performances, and Chastain and Farrell convincingly communicate the fractured sensibilities of an internecine relationship, building each other up to potentially fulfil their dreams, then haplessly tearing each other apart. But Miss Julie feels stubbornly theatrical, rather than cinematic; Ullmann’s dispassionate camera conveys little urgency or momentum, and her use of cutaways to highlight details like photographs and knives is painfully heavy-handed. Paling in comparison to Mike Figgis' superior 1999 version, aside from her flowery cinematic book-ends, Ullmann’s scrupulously-to-the-text version is far too reverent to impress as anything other than an acting masterclass.
Selected release from Fri 4 Sep.