MISS JULIE (Norway | UK | Canada | USA | France | Ireland/TBC/129mins)
Directed by Liv Ullman. Starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Chastain, Samantha Morton
THE PLOT: Over the course of a Midsummer’s Night, Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain) and her father’s valet John (Colin Farrell) seduce, reject and ultimately destroy one another.
THE VERDICT: The idea of Liv Ullmann directing a film based on one of August Strindberg’s plays is enough to send any cinephile into spasms of delight, but it seems that something has been lost in this translation.
Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell are on fine form in their roles as Miss Julie and John. Both get their moments of quietitude and intensity, and both relish them well. That said, however, there are times where the characters’ turn in emotion seems to come from nowhere and disappear just as suddenly. Farrell and Chastain are well equipped to handle such change, but it often leaves the audience reeling. Samantha Morton plays another quiet, religious but opinionated woman, and does well with the job, but is very much left to the side of this production.
Strindberg’s play was hailed for its naturalism, but precious little of this appears to be on display in Ullmann’s version; the characters’ motivations are never truly clear – other than a desire to punish the other, but this could easily have been achieved in other ways – and their desires often feel rather petty. There is surely a strong statement to be made with this text; the battle to survive, between a man and woman, but the film slowly turns into a game of tit for tat, with each character trying to outdo the other, until it becomes clear that all either of them needs is a good night’s sleep. The choice to move the story to Ireland makes little sense, unless one were to consider the idea that the pagan gods may have possessed the two, or that Liv Ullmann is trying to make a statement on Ireland’s outdated abortion laws, which somehow doesn’t seem likely.
As director, Ullmann coaxes strong performances from her actors, but in putting the entire piece together, leaves the film feeling disjoined. Individual moments work well, but fall apart when compared with what comes before or after, and relentless close-ups give the film a feeling of claustrophobia that was obviously intentional, but doesn’t work. As well as this, the pacing of the film is torturous which, combined with the constant changes in energy and atmosphere, leaves the film feeling endless.
In all, MISS JULIE could have been a blistering film filled with energy, strong performances and a powerful message. As it stands, only one of the three is communicated, and when combined with torturous pacing and oddly framed shots, MISS JULIE lacks the sizzle it needs.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Miss Julie
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.0Lacks sizzle
  • filmbuff2011

    Liv Ullmann is the Norwegian director and star of a number of Ingmar Bergman films. Her new film Miss Julie is an adaptation of the 1888 August Strindberg play. Of course, we’ve been here before with a decent 1999 film version from Mike Figgis. So, what’s new? Ullmann relocates the story from Sweden to Fermanagh in 1890, where class and cultural distinctions are more obvious. Footman and valet to a Baron in a country mansion, John (Colin Farrell) comes from humble origins but dreams of climbing the social ladder. He’s engaged to be married to Kathleen (Samantha Morton), who also works in the mansion and is aware of his wandering eye. That eye wanders towards the Baron’s daughter, Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain). Over the course of a midsummer’s night while the Baron is away, John and Miss Julie play a flirtatious game in the kitchen and in other parts of the house. Kathleen is not unaware of what’s happening elsewhere in the house. Miss Julie encourages John to seduce her, in a verbal game of cat and mouse with the prize being Miss Julie’s honour. That’s not all she stands to lose though… Miss Julie looks like a promising film at first. Talented actors with a talented director, in a setting that will be more identifiable to an Irish audience. But somewhere in Ullmann’s adaptation, the heart of the story has been lost. The tragedy that unfolds lacks conviction. Ullmann seems unsure of how to portray the relationship between the three characters. She also seems content to just let it be a filmed play. There a few fleeting attempts to move the story outside of the domestic environment, but nowhere near enough. The acting is also pitched towards a theatrical environment, being far more aggressive towards emotions and outcomes than the subtlety that a film requires. Ullmann also tries to ape Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, another, more superior story about a social climber from Ireland. Her repeated use of a soulful piece of piano music from Franz Schubert is a direct link back to Barry Lyndon. It’s far too obvious and she would have been better off trying something a bit more original. If you like stagey, claustrophobic filmed plays, then Miss Julie is the film for you. Otherwise, there’s not much to recommend about Miss Julie. It’s a missed opportunity. **