Tropic Sprockets / Tulip Fever

By Ian Brockway

“Tulip Fever” by director Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) has the best intentions with yet another fine performance by Alicia Vikander, yet its overplotting and lagging story make it less of an experience and more of a tepid tale of star-crossed lovers who clutch at a few wilted flowers.

We are in the Netherlands in the 17th century and everyone is in the grip of tulip mania. Cornelis (Christoph Waltz), an egotistical aristocrat, wants a portrait of himself and his wife Sophia (Vikander). The aristocrat hires the rumpled painter Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) and then (surprise surprise) a romp in the hay between the lady in pearls and the charcoal-fingered bohemian begins.

The tryst is meant to be intriguing and some of it is. DeHaan and Vikander are satisfactory, but the action is slow in developing and the drama lazes about.  There are numerous sub-plots involving the tulip craze and Van Loos wanting success, in addition to a maid Maria (Holliday Grainger) who wants to sustain her relationship with the sensitive fishmonger William (Jack O’ Connell).

Despite the best efforts of Vikander, all of it feels stuck at a distance with a drifting neutrality.

Waltz is needling and bossy as he has been in countless other roles. DeHaan is a kind of DiCaprio styled Romeo or Jack, all loose bravado one second and showing a frenzied paramour the next.

All the to and fro is oddly unconvincing and rote. If you have seen “Romeo and Juliet” or “The Titanic” you know the rub.

There is a bit by comic Zack Galifianakis as a drunkard that feels routine (in a historical riff on his Hangover role, guzzling wine and bellowing), as does an appearance by Judi Dench as a feisty nun who loves tulips.

It is indeed odd that by the time the audience expects a climax, there isn’t  one, with everyone going their separate mud-scuffed ways.

The real star of the film is the cinematography by Eigil Bryld which is luxuriant and gorgeous, illustrating the period with verve and beauty.

“Tulip Fever”  has been labelled as a sensual period drama, but sadly it plods along in more of a drooping fit than any satisfying fever.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com