Swedish playwright August Strindberg (1849-1912) wrote “Miss Julie” in 1888; son of a bankrupt aristocrat and a waitress, his troubled and tumultuous childhood infused his remarkable writings, none more so than “Miss Julie”; a play resonating with class warfare, misogyny, “hysteria” (a Victorian reference to female sexual frustration), borderline schizophrenia; shocking fodder for a straight-laced society at the turn of the century. Legendary Liv Ullmann wrote and directed this adaptation, character study of individuals still worthy of intellectual dissection. Stunningly acted by Jessica Chastain (“Miss Julie”) Colin Farrell (“John”), Samantha Morton (“Kathleen”) their stalwart efforts cannot save the film from overwhelming drudgery, excruciating glut (at least 30 minutes should have been surgically excised); garbled, incomprehensible dialogue leaving viewers annoyingly exasperated.
Strindberg’s outstanding prescience in his portrayal of fragile, flawed women; his decaying marriage, cauterization from his children lends layers of brilliant bitterness to his characterizations; Miss Julie, isolated, entitled; in the original play her engagement was broken because she tried to train her fiancé to emulate a dog. Strindberg harbored a deep hatred for the breed, once stating “people who keep dogs are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves”. “John” proves that his bite is every bit as lacerating as his bark; Farrell’s depiction simmers with hypnotic, Machiavellian dominance. Chastain, luminously beautiful, lends “Julie” the proper amount of naive coquetry; terrified of the “consequences” of her deflowering, slowing sinking into an Ophelia-like fug. Samantha Morton, as fine an actor as she is, was miscast as John’s intended; originally five years older, this pairing lacked even a modicum of chemistry; Christine is the metaphor for retribution, wrongs righted in the afterlife, virtue rewarded.
“Miss Julie” although paved with the best intentions is stale, claustrophobic in scope (fares better on the stage); their hubris hardly relevant in today’s world where boundaries have been ignored, individuals have risen from the “huddled masses” to become prime ministers, popes, presidents and a seventeen-year-old Pakistani girl wins the Nobel Peace Prize.