Magazine article Screen International

Miss Julie

Magazine article Screen International

Miss Julie

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Liv Ullmann. Norway-UK-Eire-France. 2014. 129mins

The credits may claim this is an adaptation of the August Strindberg play, but truth to be said, there is far more of Liv Ullmann here than of the play that scandalised Europe at the end of the 19th Century and has become since one of the most popular items on world stage. Not only because Ullmann's version moved the action from Sweden, a protestant country, to catholic Ireland, which makes quite a difference in the mentality of its characters, nor is it because Miss Julie's father has been demoted from Count to Baron, which truly makes no difference.

With the action moving in and out of the kitchen, into the servants' quarters, the courtyards and the park, Mikhail Krichman's camera has lots of opportunities to shine, from intricate chiaroscuro interior shots to the gloriously luminous outdoors sequences.

Even the constant daylight accompanying a plot which is supposed to take place at night ending next morning, or the decision to leave only three characters and cut out the others, are not the main problem. But by opening the play, which originally takes place in a manor's kitchen, and spreading it all through the manor and the grounds surrounding it, all the tremendous claustrophobic intensity of the original is scattered to the winds. And that will not go unnoticed by theatre lovers, who should be the immediate audience of such a film.

Strindberg ferociously explored at the time the clash between two characters representing diametrically opposite worlds, with a tenacity that shocked his contemporaries. Miss Julie, the master's daughter in a class conscious society where everyone is supposed to know their roles and their places in the hierarchy, thinks she can break the rules in her encounter with John, her father's valet, whom she goes down into the kitchen to taunt, tempt and humiliate, while everyone else, except for Christine (in Ullmann's version she is called Kathleen), the cook who might be John's fiancée, is out to celebrate Midsummer's Night.

But things do not turn out the way she had planned, if she did have a plan to begin with. Her intention to dictate the terms of their encounter, are soon overturned, for she may belong to the ruling class, and he to the lower ones, but in the world they live in, he is a man and she is a woman, and this gives him the upper hand. In the ensuing Darwinian struggle between them, to use Strindberg's own description of the play as a "life and death fight for the survival of the fittest", she doesn't have much of a chance to prevail. …

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