Tulip Fever (2017) by Johnny Web (Greg Wroblewski)

Tulip fever - catch it!

Tulip Fever takes place in the 17th century, not long after Shakespeare's time, and it is structured very much like a Shakespearean play.

An prosperous elderly merchant rescues a beautiful young woman from an orphanage and gives her a wonderful life as his wife. He's stuffy and boring, but basically a decent person and she feels grateful to him, so she would like to give him the child he so desperately wants. Unfortunately he does not appear to be capable of producing children, and she wishes she could stop having sex with him rather than trying forever.

The situation is further complicated when the vain husband hires a hunky young painter to create an official portrait of the couple. I guess you can figure the next plot twist: the wife initiates an affair with the hunk. The truly Shakespearean twists begin next. The wife uses her maid's cloak to sneak off to the artist's loft. The maid's boyfriend spots the wife dressed as the maid and thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him. He becomes despondent and leaves the country, unaware that the maid is pregnant and totally in love with him.

After some stops and starts, the two women finally concoct a plot that allows them to solve each other's problem. The maid is about to have a baby without a father, and the wife needs a baby to please her husband, so they resolve to pretend that the wife is pregnant and the maid is not. When the baby is born, they will tell the husband the baby is his. Of course the husband would know what was going on if he were to see his wife naked, but there is a solution to that which the wife even happier. She gets a sleazy doctor to declare that she must not have sex in her fragile condition, and in fact should sleep in a separate room to avoid being jostled. The coup de grace of the scheme is that the wife will pretend to die in childbirth, thus permanently obviating her sexual obligations to the old coot and allowing her to start a new life with her young lover.

Not credible, you think? Yeah, you're probably right, but it's sort of fun, isn't it?. There are several more unlikely, silly plot twists along the way, but you can discover those for yourselves if you're interested.

The Shakespearean connection goes deeper than the plot structure. This movie will probably remind you quite a bit of another period piece about the same general historical era, Shakespeare in Love. Both films are essentially love stories from the Weinstein company which combine elements of comedy and drama, and feature Judy Dench in a small but important role. In both cases there is a stuffy rich man cuckolded by a young artistic man. In both cases there is a specific and detailed focus on a popular profession in the late 16th-early 17th century: the theater business in one, the tulip business in the other. In both cases, a major character ends the film by starting a new life in the New World. Both films include unlikely plot premises, and both introduce unrealistic elements of farce. The resemblance between the two films is not coincidental because the two films share the same screenwriter, Tom Stoppard, who is a great admirer and student of Shakespeare. (He also wrote the Hamlet-inspired play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" in the period before he became an A-list screenwriter.) I usually love Stoppard's work, but he's in his 80s now, and I think he might be out of ideas and out of touch. In addition to the script's reliance on Stoppard's familiar, old-fashioned devices, the dialogue is awkward, there's not much magic written into the main romance, and every single plot twist is telegraphed so obviously as to ruin the potential surprise or even to elicit groans.

This movie was actually filmed back in 2014 and had been languishing in distribution hell for years before getting a modest 700-theater release in September of 2017. The producers' lack of confidence was well founded. The film opened in 23rd place and never gained momentum.


Alicia Vikander is naked in a bedroom scene with her hunky painter.

Holliday Grainger bares one breast very briefly in a dimly-lit scene.

Cara Delevingne, as a thieving prostitute, performed a momentary topless scene.

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