Miss Julie is not a movie to get excited about because of the slow pacing, which turned me off. At times, the stellar acting kept me interested. If you are not familiar with the setting of the play, you most likely will have a hard time liking or even understanding the movie.
Both Jessica Chastain (from my hometown) and Colin Farrell kept me watching the movie despite the stark production. The undertones between the characters came off very strong. I was curious about each character’s next move or motive. The cinematography created a visual masterpiece with darkness in light.
Directed by the legendary actress Liv Ullmann, the story takes place in Northern Ireland 1890. Miss Julie, a daughter of a Baron, lives a very privilege life. She was raised to be independent, like a man of this era. The movie doesn’t make this clear as to why she behaves this way, but I hear the stage play makes it clear as to what drives her to be so independent. In the movie, she is still a strong woman who feels she can flirt with men the way men would normally flirt with her.
The movie begins with a flashback scene of her as a child, which I totally enjoyed. Here we see her read one of her books while the story offers an implication of loneliness and neglect within an empty house. The story flashes forward to 1890 on mid-summer’s night.
There are only three characters in the movie. Miss Julie (Chastain) is an adult. John (Farrell) is the Baron’s Valet, and Kathleen (Samantha Morton) is John’s fiancé and the cook.
Like the stage play, the dialogue moves the story. John and Kathleen are having a conversation in the kitchen. John grumbles about his duties and the behavior of Miss Julie. He explains to Kathleen, how she stooped below her station, dancing with the gamekeeper and even ordering him to dance. John takes on the air of Miss Julie and orders Kathleen to clean and fetch. As he talks to Kathleen, he longs for faraway places like Paris. He is well traveled for a servant and taken care to get educated. Miss Julie enters the kitchen, and the dialogue changes to include her presence as the mistress of the house, and of romantic or sexual interest. She becomes more assertive and takes charge of what happens between her and a John.
Now the story is arranged for what the battle is really about. Who will maintain the upper hand as it sways back and forth. The power change in the story is a bit confusing if the viewer doesn’t notice the nuances and fundamental symbolism the stage play offers.
All in all, Miss Julie is an intellectual story that needs a bit of spice in its pacing to keep me interested.