Starring Alicia Vikander. Rated 14A
This glossy period piece, set in 1630s Amsterdam, was originally slated to star Keira Knightley and Jude Law, as directed by Shakespeare in Love’s John Madden and adapted by its screenwriter, Tom Stoppard. Law and Knightley went on to make the overlooked Anna Karenina, also from Stoppard. In the end, the Czech-born playwright was paired with novelist Deborah Moggach, who also wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and adapted her own 2000 book here.
This pedigree guarantees little, as proved by the finished Fever, shot three years ago and shelved until now. Directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) and reportedly recut several times, this isn’t a total mess, and the cast is attractive. Fresh off her Ex Machina breakthrough, Sweden’s Alicia Vikander landed the lead, as Sophia, an orphan “rescued” by an older merchant. Christoph Waltz’s saturnine Cornelis Sandvoort is a born cynic whose pious selfishness doesn’t prevent him from getting most of the best lines.
A few years in, and still no babies. But at least Corny can brag about bagging this young beauty via a Rembrandtian portrait, courtesy of up-and-coming painter Jan Van Loos. Here, Dane DeHaan looks like a young Leonardo DiCaprio, so we know where trouble will be coming from.
Parallel to this Dutch threesome is the tale of Sandvoort’s maid and cook (and only servant?), Maria (The Riot Club’s Holliday Grainger), who also narrates events sporadically, in the manner of a market-tested expository device. She’s in love with swashbuckling fishmonger Willem (Jack O’Connell), and the maid’s furtive affair is steamier than that of her mistress—despite some notable nudity in the foreground story. But Vikander is a somewhat chilly presence, and can’t do much with a character defined by little more than wanting to escape her husband.
More interesting is the trade in tulip bulbs that Willem pursues, with the mania for that recently appropriated flower creating an investment bubble when the Dutch trading empire was at its peak. The film is shot in mostly dour natural light, emphasizing the richness of floral colour and of a painter’s expensive palette. But it also keeps it from being very much fun.
There’s forced frenzy to the tulip-swapping scenes, at an alehouse-brothel featuring young Cara Delevingne, years before she was paired with DeHaan in the recent flop Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Elsewhere, there are slapstick comic scenes with Zach Galifianakis, as the painter’s weirdly unreliable buddy. In the Loop’s Tom Hollander plays an amusingly sleazy proto-gynecologist. And national treasure Judi Dench is a tulip-growing convent head who takes an inexplicable shine to the lovelorn artist. Some bright bits poke up, but all told, this Tulip tries to get too many things going, and uses too much fertilizer to do it.