Let's jump straight into the controversy. This film has been savaged by critics, in my opinion unfairly. The film flopped at the box office, but this was because cinema audiences weren't given a chance to see it. It was only given a limited release in America, and it wasn't shown at all in England. The main accusations levelled against the film are poorly written dialogue and an over-complicated plot.
What's the problem with the dialogue? Many of the characters are either rich or strict Christians, so stilted speech is to be expected from them. As for the plot being complex, that's a valid criticism, but I personally didn't consider it excessive. Anyone who enjoys films will make the effort to sit down and pay attention to what's happening. The film is about a love triangle, but there's another pair of lovers involved in the story. Is that too difficult to follow?
Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is a 17-year-old who has grown up in an orphanage. She's sold to a rich businessman in Amsterdam, Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). He's not a bad man. He wishes the best for Sophia, and she does all she can to honour and obey him, but she doesn't love him. Cornelis commissions a young artist, Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint their portrait. A romance develops between Sophia and the artist, but she feels guilty because she knows her husband loves her.
At the same time Cornelis' maid Maria is having a passionate affair with the fishmonger Willem (Jack O'Connell). There are few chances for poor people in 17th Century Amsterdam, so he invests all his savings in tulips to make enough money to get married.
After that the plot develops the complexities that the critics don't like. Willem loses his money and is forced to join the navy. Maria is pregnant, but Sophia pretends the baby is hers. (That was possible in the good old days when husbands weren't allowed to witness the birth). Jan gets involved in the tulip market as well. The story is fascinating. It has the making of an epic, but I don't think the film needed to be any longer. It's just right as it is.
The only thing that the film is missing, in my opinion, is more tulips. The film is all about the tulip mania of the 17th Century, when tulips were more precious than gold, but we don't see many tulips. We see a few flowers here and there, but I would have liked to see a field, or at least a garden full of tulips.
The acting is excellent by all the main characters. Christoph Waltz and Dane DeHaan are two of my favourite actors. It's worth watching the film for their performance alone.
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