Home / Arts & Life / Review: ‘Tulip Fever’ Delivers a Wilted Period Piece

Review: ‘Tulip Fever’ Delivers a Wilted Period Piece


Alicia Vikander in a scene from “Tulip Fever.”

Alex Bailey/The Weinstein Company

There’s no way around reviewing “Tulip Fever” without noting that the movie has been buried deeper than a tulip bulb. The Vulture writer Kyle Buchanan has already provided a rundown of the substantial delays in the film’s release, which — for a project once regarded as an Oscar contender — might be taken as a sign of an odor other than floral. This week, Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, the film’s distributor, took the extraordinary step of defending the movie in advance with a column for Deadline Hollywood, though it is laced with passive-aggressive barbs like “I know this film’s not perfect, very few are, but it’s a perfectly good time in a movie theater.”

Plenty of movies fit that description — and considering the hoopla, the most disappointing thing about “Tulip Fever,” directed by Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) and set in 17th-century Amsterdam, is that it’s neither a secret masterpiece nor a laughable disaster. True, there is the scene in which Jan (Dane DeHaan), the hunky portraitist having an affair with Sophia (Alicia Vikander), the unhappily married wife of a merchant, explains to her that the key to their escape is to bet big in the Dutch tulip market. “All we have to do is put all our eggs in one basket,” he says.


Trailer: ‘Tulip Fever’

A preview of the film.

By THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY on Publish Date May 5, 2016.

Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

Watch in Times Video »

Howlers like that are few and far between, though, in a script credited to Tom Stoppard and Deborah Moggach, adapting her own novel, that faithfully follows the template for overripe period dramas. The re-creation of Amsterdam in the Golden Age is credible, the sweeping camera moves look like a great workout, and the compositions suggest someone studied Vermeer. There is also a fascination with the milieu, in which speculators, owing to tulips’ value at the time, would bid on bulbs, prizing rare varieties and creating a soaring market that ultimately crashed. Even an abbess (Judi Dench) gets in on the action.

Alas, the movie is not “The Wolf of Waalstraat” and more directly concerns a familiar love triangle. To ensure her siblings’ passage to New Amsterdam, the city that became New York, the orphaned Sophia has married Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), described as “the king of peppercorns.” Despite his ritualized lovemaking, she fails to conceive an heir. When her servant, Maria (Holliday Grainger, who also narrates) becomes pregnant by the fishmonger (Jack O’Connell), Sophia proposes a scheme in which Cornelis can keep the baby. In the meantime, Sophia must merely pretend to be pregnant while Maria pretends not to be. This unconvincing charade culminates in one of the silliest birth scenes in recent memory.

The star turns — including one from Zach Galifianakis as the sort of drunk you do not want to entrust with your nest egg — stave off boredom, but the most disappointing thing about the end to the speculative bubble surrounding “Tulip Fever” is that there isn’t much there.

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