Tulip Fever

 

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Tom Stoppard and Deborah Moggach's playful romp brings a little-known chapter of Dutch history sparklingly to life in a film that seduces the eye as it engages the emotions.

 
Tulip Fever

Picturte perfect: poseurs Christoph Waltz and Alicia Vikander

 

There are not enough films about flowers. Of course, Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Deborah Moggach's 1999 novel is also about lust, love, beauty, art, money and deceit and is one of the year’s surprising late bloomers. Following a troubled production history in which Moggach's original screenplay was to be produced by Steven Spielberg, with Natalie Portman and Jude Law in the leads, the film was suffocated by new tax laws laid down by Gordon Brown. It was an expensive annulment, as the extensive sets had already been built and 12,000 tulips planted. That was 14 years ago. Then the rights were re-acquisitioned by Harvey Weinstein and in the summer of 2014, a new version co-scripted by Stoppard started filming under the direction of Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl). However, further problems dodged the production and, four years on, the film finally arrives on British shores. And it’s a treat. Like Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love, here there be a lively mix of high art and low farce, a heady cocktail that seduces the eye as it accelerates the pulse. It is a fine balancing act and Chadwick has skilfully pulled together the multiple strings at his disposal to cultivate and hothouse a little-known chapter of history.

 

At a time when the Netherlands was the wealthiest nation on earth and Amsterdam a teeming hub of trade, culture, fashion, painting and commerce, the most precious commodity of all was the tulip bulb. Representing the last word in the exotic and the exquisite, the flower became a bargaining chip for the rich and reckless, leading to the ruin and the making of many a merchant. Within this seventeenth-century setting, Moggach’s novel places the beautiful Sophia, an orphan who is married off to an elderly merchant desperate for an heir. As the innocent plucked from the security of the abbey, Alicia Vikander shimmers with erotic confusion, her beauty lighting up the screen and the canvas of the portrait painter Jan van Loos (DiCaprio doppelgänger Dane DeHaan).

 

If the visual bounty of the film were not enough, it proves to be merely the backdrop to a bodice-busting romp with surprising helpings of suspense and sex. There are good performances, too, from Christoph Waltz as Sophia’s patient (albeit libidinous) husband and Holliday Grainger as the couple’s plump and homespun housekeeper. And there are scene-stealing turns from Tom Hollander as a duplicitous doctor and Judi Dench as a brusque, pipe-smoking abbess, completing the finishing touches to a pacy, colourful and most captivating diversion.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O'Connell, Holliday Grainger, Tom Hollander, Zach Galifianakis, Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench, Matthew Morrison, David Harewood, Douglas Hodge, Joanna Scanlan, Cressida Bonas, Kevin McKidd, Cara Delevingne, Alexandra Gilbreath, Sebastian Armesto, Michael Smiley, Johnny Vegas, Anastasia Hille, Daisy Lowe, Deborah Moggach.

 

Dir Justin Chadwick, Pro Alison Owen and Bob Weinstein, Screenplay Deborah Moggach and Tom Stoppard, from the novel by Deborah Moggach, Ph Eigil Bryld, Pro Des Simon Elliott, Ed Rock Russell, Music Danny Elfman, Costumes Michael O’Connor.

 

Worldview Entertainment/Paramount Pictures/Ruby Films-Entertainment Film Distributors

104 mins. UK/USA. 2017. Rel: 7 December 2018. Cert. 15.