“Tulip Fever” is a forthcoming romantic drama directed by Justin Chadwick and based on a novel by Deborah Moggach (the original writer of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011)). The film is set in the 17th century Amsterdam, the Netherlands, at the peak of the so-called “tulipomania” when people were prepared to buy blossoming tulips for ridiculously high prices. At the centre of the story is a young woman, Sophia (Alicia Vikander), who married an older man, Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), without being in love with him, and partly to gain stability and financial security. However, Sophia soon becomes infatuated with the young painter Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) after her husband commissions a family portrait from him. To gain financial independence, the duo of lovers then bet everything on the prosperous at that time market of tulips. Apart from anything else, “Tulip Fever” is now known for its long years of production, which dates back to 2004, when the original idea for the film emerged. Apparently, the film was due for a release in July 2016, but was pushed forward to this month of 2017.
A positive aspect of this film is that it is based on such a best-selling novel, full of sumptuous details of love, deception, illusion and the Dutch obsession. Besides, the book has its clever twists and turns, as well as memorable characters and the setting. The screenwriter of the film also gives much hope. Tom Stoppard is best known for writing screenplays to the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) and to the ingenious “Brazil” (1985). The director of this film is Justin Chadwick, and, since he already had an experience of directing a period drama, i.e., “The Other Boleyn Girl” (2008), “Tulip Fever” has all the chances of being a well-paced and presented film. Most actors involved are also admirable, and will, undoubtedly, give great performances. Alicia Vikander with an Academy Award under her belt and a plenty of leading roles behind her, will be mesmerising and confident, and the role suits her well. Equally, Christoph Waltz will be great as a man “possessed” by the beauty of his young wife; and Judi Dench is always fabulous in the role of a strict moral teacher and guide, for example see “Jane Eyre” (2011).
However, unfortunately, it also looks like “Tulip Fever” can do a number of things wrong. Firstly, the director of the film, Justin Chadwick, can slide into over-dramatisation and melodrama, and can prioritise visual effects over character development, as was partly the case with his “The Other Boleyn Girl”. Secondly, the script may lose the plot altogether, and by focusing too intently on Sophia and her romantic pursuits, can forget about Amsterdam, the obsessive and potentially dangerous atmosphere surrounding the growth and selling of tulips, and about the slightly erotic symbolism permeating the original novel. Finally, in a film like this, there needs to be a “strong-looking”, handsome male cast as a love interest of the main heroine, and, unfortunately, it looks like this is lacking here. Opposite Alicia Vikander, playing her love interest, is young Dane DeHaan, and his casting in this role is just a laugh. In the trailer, he looks too young for her; their chemistry seems lukewarm; and their love affair has got to be non-believable. It is unimaginable how this beautiful, well-to-do, sophisticated and intelligent young lady could fall for someone as average-looking as Dane DeHaan, no offence intended. In “A Royal Affair” (2012), Vikander was cast opposite older and always mysterious-looking Mads Mikkelsen, the pairing that really worked well because the attraction was really believable, given Mikkelsen’s broodingly handsome looks and his character’s intellectual endeavours. It is partly on that basis such similar-themed films as “Anna Karenina” (2012) and “Madame Bovary” (2014) had not had that much success romance and relationship-wise: because there were not any worthy leading men cast. In “Jane Eyre”, Mia Wasikowska was cast opposite Michael Fassbender, and, there, we also saw the on-screen character attraction and the relationship that really worked. Given all this, it is such a pity that Matthias Schoenaerts dropped out of talks for the role of Jan van Loos in “Tulip Fever”, because after his role and performance in “Far From the Madding Crown” (2015), he would have made a very believable and worthy lover of Sophia.
Thus, largely basing my evaluation on the beautifully-written and fascinating novel the film is based on, as well as on the potential strength of the performances of Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench, I give this film a predicted score of 7/10.