Usually, films based on acclaimed stage plays are relatively decent. Sure, they don’t capture the rawness and authenticity of a live production but normally, they’re somewhat adequate in recreating the story and adding a little pizzazz to the proceedings. With August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie, the line between theater and film is crossed with a unfortunately dull screen adaptation that features three very capable actors (Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton), an attractive set and costumes but sadly, little else. Swedish Liv Ullmann filmmaker and actress helmed the film and with an impressive resume to her credit, it’s a shame Miss Julie wasn’t a bit better.
The story takes place in 1890 Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, where Julie (Chastain), the daughter of an aristocrat, desires a romance with her father’s valet, Jean (Farrell). Over the course of a midsummer night, Julie and Jean lust for one another but things take a rather dark turn, all the while, Christine (Morton), Julie’s cook (and Jean’s fiancé), stands idly by while the tryst ensues and eventually turns to pain and insanity.
The majority of Miss Julie takes place in a large kitchen and it is appropriate setting because it is large enough to present the characters in variety of physical moments and Liv Ullmann’s direction very expertly zeroes in on the characters’ faces to highlight the powerful emotions they display. Though Ullmann’s direction is spot on, even her technical ingenuity can’t save the film from the depths of boredom. The story drags and isn’t very interesting. Basically, a love affair between a mentally-unstable brat and a dashing commoner blossoms, then self destructs under the poorly made decisions by both parties in question. The premise is thin and the actors do their very best to squeeze life out of it. Unfortunately, even the talented actors can’t save the film.
Though, not a classic and based on a pretty lame story, Miss Julie is actually not completely devoid of merit. As mentioned above, the period setting provides for some rather gorgeous costumes. Consolata Boyle (The Queen, Philomena, The Iron Lady) deserves some serious recognition for the 19th century wardrobes. The characters all look as though they live during the time period and the costumes are a strong reason why. The sets also, with the main one being a kitchen, are all heavily influenced by the era and production designer Caroline Amies (In the Name of the Father, Copying Beethoven, Carrington) certainly knows what she’s doing.
Die-hard fans of August Strindberg’s work should check out Miss Julie and if you seek strong performances from Chastain, Farrell and Morton, then this film should definitely be on your “must-watch” list. Other than that, it really isn’t very interesting and the plot does meander. It’s bleak and dull and sometimes, downright unwatchable. Other than the sets and costumes, there really isn’t a lot going on here. The acting is the best part about it but even these gifted thespians can’t bring the film to grand heights. They certainly try but the end result is a serious snooze-fest.