Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Tulip Fever

(USA, UK, 2017)

Before the bubble popped in the 1990s, before the stock bubble burst in 1929, there was tulip mania in Holland in late 1636. Prices for rare bulbs soared to ridiculous heights. Wikipedia lists this as the price paid for a single bulb of the Viceroy strain:

Two lasts of wheat 448ƒ
Four lasts of rye 558ƒ
Four fat oxen 480ƒ
Eight fat swine 240ƒ
Twelve fat sheep 120ƒ
Two hogsheads of wine 70ƒ
Four tuns of beer 32ƒ
Two tuns of butter 192ƒ
1,000 lbs. of cheese 120ƒ
A complete bed 100ƒ
A suit of clothes 80ƒ
A silver drinking cup 60ƒ
Total 2500ƒ

And a partridge in a pear tree. A tun is 240 gallons. A last is almost anything you want it to be, depending on what is being measured. A hogshead is 300 liters, 66 Imperial gallons, 70 US gallons, or that part of a hog opposite its ass. Prices are in 1636 Guilders, so you do the math. I figure it would add up to a hell of a lot of Euros.

What I was looking for in a movie about tulip mania was more about the mania, and about the tulips, and less about the romance between a starving artist and the wife of a wealthy and very forgiving Dutch aristocrat. There is much deception going on, including a pretend pregnancy to cover up and switch with a real, and potentially scandalous, actual childbirth. There is a lot more plot like this, and the tulip auctions only appear now and then.

There is some good stuff here, and all the actors do a good job, including the really in-demand Swedish actress and recent Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander as the wife. Christoph Waltz, who also works a lot and has also won the Oscar, is the husband. Dane DeHaan is the artist. Zach Galifianakis seems to have wandered in from some other comedy movie. Judi Dench, another actress who seems to be in everything these days, is good as a very canny Mother Superior who is making a killing raising and selling bulbs. But even with a script by the book’s author, Deborah Moggach, and Tom Stoppard, it just never all comes together. And, like I said, I wish I’d seen more about tulips. I understand it was a troubled production, with a couple years of re-thinking and re-cutting, and it shows.