Tulip Fever (2017)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Tulip trading became a major source of wealth in the Dutch Provinces in the late 1600s. Solid colors earned a fair profit but the rare striped tulips could make a man's fortune... or break him.

Raised in a nunnery, Sophia (Alicia Vikander) knows little of marriage when the nuns arrange a wealthy match for her in Sandervoot (Christoph Waltz), but after three years, she is still unable to give him a child. Concerned he may throw her over, she seeks medical help for her condition... while his friends urge him to consider another wife. Caught up in the popularity of portraits, Sandervoot hires a local artist, Jan (Dane DeHaan) to paint them. The connection between them is instant, and Sophia soon finds herself torn between desire and propriety, as she yearns to live a simple life with Jan.

Meanwhile, her best friend, the downstairs kitchen maid, Maria (Holliday Grainger) falls for the local fish merchant, who hopes to make his fortune in tulips. His chance comes along when he purchases a rare double-colored tulip from the local abbess (Judi Dench). As their lives entwine, mistaken identities tear some of them apart and leave the women in a precarious position... until Sophia comes up with a daring plot to save both of them.

This film suffered much in post-production, with numerous edits and delayed releases based on audience screenings; the Weinstein scandal (he produced it) finally buried it for good, which means it has hit wider audiences much quicker in various formats. Since I knew nothing about this period other than vague fashion details, I was excited to see a story play out against a unique setting. The costume design is stunning, as is the world the script immerses us in; the side characters, such as Maria, have a lot of spunk and likability, owed in part to charming performances. If the story has two flaws, it is that Sophia and Jan gave me no real reason to believe in or support their romances. He's a serial philanderer who falls in love with her at first sight, and she's just... bored. They allow lust to threaten to destroy their lives, and break a man's heart. Though, I did like how the last half played out; I did not expect what happened, so the several twists and turns kept me entertained and emotionally engaged.

The second problem is trying to translate something as complicated as the tulip trade to the audience; it's hard to follow those scenes, and not enough background information is given to avoid confusion. It feels like (due to edits?) some portions of that side of the story have gone missing! It's a shame, because this has the bones of a solid (albeit, in the romance department, contrived) story. I felt the nude scenes were gratuitous in an effort to be edgy, and it somewhat tarnished the classy feel of a period film for me. But it's gorgeous to look at, and has an unusual plot, and in our world of remakes and remade classics, that's a welcome change.

Sexual Content:
Four graphic sex scenes (movement, sound, nudity); a man places his wife's hand under the covers to rub him, he talks about his "little soldiers" being ready for duty; a woman tells a man she must become pregnant, and he invites her into his room and unbuttons his trousers (she slaps him and leaves); many scenes of nudity and/or partial nudity (bare backsides, breasts, etc).
 
Language:
None.
 
Violence:
A tavern brawl; a man punches another man for beating a donkey.

Other:
Adultery.