Frock Flicks note: This is a guest post by our friend Allison Skewes, known as Aleit Pietersdochter in the Society for Creative Anachronism, where she studies material culture of Low Countries and Germany in the 16th century. She was first out the door to see Tulip Fever and kindly provided this quick review!
The story behind Tulip Fever‘s release is nicely covered in The Atlantic. I had no idea that footage from the film was shown at Cannes back in 2015, but I did know a version starring Keira Knightley was planned in 2004 with Jude Law as love interest. But discount Leonardo Dicaprio, Dane deHaan, does a decent job as a penniless sexxxxxxxxxxy artist who seduces a rich lady — now played by Alicia Vikander — in 2017.
Since Tulip Fever had been teased for so long, I was super pumped to finally see it in theaters. I had seen the initial stills and trailer in July 2016, and Kendra wrote a great post breaking down the clothing in the trailer. In the time it took to come to theaters, I read the book, saw more trailers, resigned myself to the fact that this movie would never be seen on the big screen, and awaited the direct-to-DVD release it was probably going to get. (And maybe that DVD release will have a longer “director’s cut” since some reviews say the theatrical version got chopped too much — who knows?)
The film opens with a voiceover by the housekeeper Maria (Holliday Grainger), talking about tulip mania and how it came to be. She gives the date as 1634. As much as I love flowers and tulips especially, I didn’t care! Show me the costumes, which are designed by Michael O’Connor (2011’s Jane Eyre, The Duchess, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). According to Page Six, the film’s opening weekend grossed “less than 1.4 million, which barely covers the cost of the costumes.” I believe it.
The costuming is amazingly detailed. For example … I noted pins holding the sets in the ruffs together.
I saw more than one huik, which is like something like a cape typically worn in the Netherlands.
Spiral lacing was present, and I did not see any metal grommets. Only a few of the prostitutes still suffered from the great and terrible hairpin shortage.
Sophia (Alicia Vikander) and Maria had their hair up, like the grown-ass ladies they were. I can’t recall how accurate the hairstyles were to the 1630s, but the caps were pretty good! Technically, we should probably be seeing more drawn threadwork and whitework than what looks like blackwork and other embroidery techniques on the caps instead of on most of the shirts, but I’ll let it slide.
I don’t remember seeing an oorijzer (the ear iron that is important in helping keep the structure of the cap), but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
The film has a nice mix of falling collars and ruffs, and certainly both were being worn at the time in the Low Countries. Sophia’s husband Cornelis (Christoph Waltz) is an older man and does wear both a ruff and a falling collar, but I believe he appeared more often in a ruff.
Overall the clothing is pretty spot on when it comes to showing the aesthetic, even when it comes to minor characters. In the scene below, Sophia’s dressmaker (right) and neighbor are commenting on the finished portrait. The scene gives a great nod to costumers as the dressmaker talks about the detail of the clothing. It might not have been intentional, but it feels like it.
I’m a little bothered that the ladies above both appear to be wearing the exact same thing, but it’s based on an extant garment so whatever. I do love that these two women show how an outfit can be mixed up with different sleeves, a fur-lined loose gown (vlieger) or plain loose gown, and different skirts. Work that capsule wardrobe, honey.
Even though some of the extras and the minor characters (but not many) fell short in terms of clothing, when I looked at the scene overall I could have been looking at a Dutch genre painting.
I think I even saw chicken baskets at one point! Bonus, the diversity in the cast was great — that is to say, it wasn’t 100% white people, which is something that tends to be an issue in period pieces.
However, apart from the costumes, the story felt a little boring. I can only take Christoph Waltz referring to his penis as a little soldier so many times. See it in the theaters if you can just for the 17th-century Dutch costumes — unless you have a sweet TV that shows the blackest of the costume drama blacks and are willing to rent this in HD when it comes out!
Frock Flicks note: Another SCA friend who studies 16th-century Dutch clothing, Margaret George, reviewed Tulip Fever this weekend on her blog, Clothing the Low Countries. Enjoy all the Netherland-y goodness in theaters while you can!