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New Release Review - MISS JULIE

Latest screen adaptation of August Strindberg's play.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Liv Ullmann

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain, Samantha Morton




"Ullmann shoots her cast like the director of a football match during an extended timeout for injury. At 130 minutes, this will test the patience of all but the most enthusiastic theatre buffs."






Swedish cinema icon Liv Ullmann adapts one of her homeland's most famous dramatic works, transferring the story from Sweden to Ireland, specifically County Fermanagh in 1890 and the estate of a wealthy landed Baron.
Colin Farrell is the Baron's working class valet, who spends a midsummer's night unconvincingly fighting off the attentions of the Baron's daughter, Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), the mistress of the house, while his fiance, Kathleen (Samantha Morton), is shunted off to her room. The flirting turns nasty as class warfare is introduced into play.
The movie opens with an unnecessary scene of Julie as a child, and the red walls of her bedroom recall Bergman's Cries and Whispers, but this is where the influence of Ullmann's former director ends, as she films the play in a bland fashion that, coupled with the harsh lighting and digital aesthetic, gives the impression of watching one of those NFT Live productions that are popularly beamed into suburban multiplexes. Ullmann shoots her cast like the director of a football match during an extended timeout for injury.
Little thought has been given to the dynamics of switching the action to Ireland. Despite taking place over the course of a night, darkness never falls; this makes sense for a midsummer's night in Northern Sweden, not so Northern Ireland. Ullmann seems equally unfamiliar with the religious dynamic of 19th century Ireland. Farrell's valet claims to have attended the same church as Chastain's Julie, though later we learn both he and Morton attend a Roman Catholic church; there's no way on earth someone in Chastain's high position would have been Catholic at that period in Irish history.
Strindberg's play hasn't aged well; addressing issues of class head on may have been groundbreaking in the late 19th century, but today it simply lacks nuance, and Strindberg's dialogue feels far too on the nose.
Mike Figgis gave us a pared down, shot in one take version of Strindberg's play in 1999 that was far more energetic than Ullmann's plodding, padded out version here. At 130 minutes, this will test the patience of all but the most enthusiastic theatre buffs.



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