I assume that the melodramatic machinations of Miss Julie played like gangbusters in 1890s Sweden, but a century later it all rings pretty false. Bergman acolyte Liv Ullmann sneaks in a reference to Cries and Whispers in the opening flashback and executes an excellent final shot, but otherwise can’t overcome the inherent staginess of the story (adapted from August Strindberg’s play).
One might expect something more impressive from the presence of Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain (who carry what is fundamentally a two-hander, barring some brief appearances from Samantha Morton as Farrell’s fiancé). They play a Baron’s manservant and daughter (the eponymous Julie), respectively, delivering performances that are always committed but never convincing. The problems originate in the screenplay, which lacks emotional integrity. Individual scenes careen from emotion to emotion and even the set-up lacks justification for why midsummer night is such an effective catalyst for the events (yeling, sexing, cleaver-waving) that follow.
Implausible characterisation aside, Miss Julie examines class and gender divisions with the same lack of subtlety as its dialogue (where the characters frequently exclaim things like “I’m so unhappy!”). These themes are – sadly – still relevant, but, like the film itself, cry out for a more nuanced approach.