Liv Ullman’s fifth film as a director is an adaptation of August Lindberg’s famous play Miss Julie, the story of a young woman who attempts to flirt, seduce and weirdly torture her dad’s valet. A former Bergman muse, Ullman proves to have caught a thing or two about filmmaking genius. Echoing sounds that suggest the emptiness of the character’s life, brilliant cinematography, Schubert and Bach in an atypical centre stage role and three highly compelling performances make this film a worthwhile experience – at least during the first minutes.
Colin Farrell as John and Jessica Chastain as Miss Julie impeccably convey the inner struggles of August Strindberg’s well-rounded characters. Stretched between convention and conviction, they relinquish, assume and challenge class roles all in the span of two hours. Yet probably the best performance is that of Samantha Morton as Cathleen, providing a spot-on delivery of the righteous character that partakes in a half-romantic, half-motherly relationship with John.
The film truthfully pays tribute to the naturalistic principles of the original version: true, grand and simple. Yet, as far as Darwinist ideologies go, the story does not feel to have evolved at all and often becomes irreverent for contemporary audiences: John turns into a socially resented misogynist man, and Julie gets dangerously close to being an archetypical poor little rich girl.
Love triangles are some of the most heartbreaking dilemmas, but the film fails to get a single tear from the audience. Surely, this is not an ardent romantic story akin to Wuthering Heights, but there is still a pronounced lack of emotional engagement in the direction that the performances are left to carry upon their shoulders.
In one of the final scenes, Cathleen gives Miss Julie a brief religious lesson: “The last shall be the first.” Miss Julie, the character, finds it hard to position herself along any of these two extremes, and so does Miss Julie, the film: not first or last, neither wonderful nor terrible
Miss Julie is released on 1st September 2015 in selected cinemas.
Watch the trailer for Miss Julie here: