Set in the Northern Irish county of Fermanagh in 1890, we delve into the grandiose abode of the affluent Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), the unsettled daughter of aristocracy, bored of her tedious, humdrum existence. Set across this laborious, tempestuous evening, predominantly in just the kitchen – we watch on as the unhinged, forsaken woman attempts to encourage her father’s valet John (Colin Farrell) to seduce her, without any care that the well-travelled attendant is in a relationship with the present maid, Kathleen (Samantha Morton).
This naturalistic, and somewhat literal kitchen-sink drama, paints a fascinating image of social class from the Victoria era, managing to remain a sense of pertinency, in spite of the fact this tale is set over a century ago. The difference in social standing between Miss Julie and John is epitomised in the way she treats her own pet dog, as once it’s been caught sleeping with a mongrel nearby, she feels inclined to poison it. This is symbolic of their own dynamic, as she is representative of her own pet, belonging to an affluent owner, while John is the mere mongrel, and yet in spite of the difference in wealth, it’s the former who gets punished for their actions.
Chastain turns in such an emphatic, engaging performance, but can be accused of overacting in parts. When we first meet Miss Julie there’s a subtle sadness in her eyes, a true sense of vulnerability to conflict against her prominence. But we lose sight of that when the tears and the screams take precedence. It’s always the more subtle, nuanced moments which prove to be the more moving and profound, and yet those such sequences are few and far between in this melodramatic endeavour.
Nonetheless, Ullmann must be commended for her use of staging, as considering the vast majority of this title takes place in just one room, their movement and the way the camera zooms out to give the kitchen a greater sense of vastness, ensures the viewer never feels claustrophobic in our surroundings. Though that’s not to say our patience is not tested, as this tale, consisting of just three characters in just one setting, surpasses the two hour mark – and it’s when we approach the latter stages when the bouts of tedium start to royally kick in.