25 September 2023

Tulip Fever

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Justin Chadwick, Roadshow Entertainment.

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz.

Set in 17th century Amsterdam, this period drama tells the story of an artist who falls for a young married woman after he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the tulip mania.

Oscar-winner Vikander (The Danish Girl, Tomb Raider) plays an orphaned girl, Sophia, who is forcibly married to a rich, elderly and powerful merchant, Cornelis (Waltz, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained). It’s not a happy arrangement, but one that gets her out of poverty.

However, three years later and Sophia is unhappy as Cornelis wants a male heir. Their efforts have so far been unsuccessful.

Cornelis then makes a mistake by hiring a young, struggling painter, Jan van Loos (DeHaan), who comes into his house to memorialise the couple via a portrait.

It’s not long before Jan and Sophia fall for each other. Jan sends a note to Sophia, asking her to send him a vase with tulips. She shows up at his door with the tulips, and they consummate their love.

Sophia then switches identities with her maid to escape the wealthy merchant she married. Together with her lover, they try to raise money by investing in the high-stakes tulip market.

Tulip Fever is a mannerly, if showy period drama, set in 1637, when prized bulbs might have been sold for more than the value of a house. It’s neither a masterwork nor a failure.

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