Editor’s Note: Harvey Weinstein is an occasional contributor to Deadline when he has something on his mind.
A number of years ago I fell in love with a book called Tulip Fever. The rights were controlled by a brilliant producer, Alison Owen. Written by Deborah Moggach, I felt the book had all the makings of a crime fiction Shakespeare In Love — funny, witty, and ironic, but with a great James M. Cain plot twist. It was a true noir that just happened to take place in 1634 Amsterdam with a great hook. It tells the true story of how people bet on the futures of tulip bulbs. I know that sounds crazy, but a thousand years from now we’ll all be asking why people today bet on the futures of cattle and sugar. The whole commodities market is pretty nutty when you think about it. And in 1634 Amsterdam people bet on tulip bulbs, and not just the tulip flower, but the bulb and the kind of tulip it would birth.
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It’s an incredible but true period story that lasted only three years, but it was three years of madness. The story focuses on a beautiful young girl (Alicia Vikander) in a prearranged marriage to a wealthy merchant (Christoph Waltz). Shortly after the marriage she falls in love with an artist (Dane DeHaan) who comes to paint her portrait. She devises a plan with the help of her maid so that everyone can live happily ever after. But you know these books — it never goes the way you planned, and there are surprises with plenty of twists and turns, which is my favorite kind of book. And for a guy who named his son Dash, after Dashiell Hammett, let’s just say I like crime fiction.
Now to getting it made into a film. Steven Spielberg had also bid on it and for years and years tried to make it but unfortunately couldn’t. Eventually my team at Miramax got together with his team at DreamWorks and made it a joint venture. We had a brilliant screenplay from Tom Stoppard, a great cast in Jude Law, Keira Knightley, and John Madden directing hot off his triumph with Shakespeare In Love. Which just goes to show — even after all those alleged battles between Miramax and DreamWorks, here we were, reunited with the director of Shakespeare In Love and the producer of Saving Private Ryan, making a movie together. Everything was going swimmingly, sets were being built, everyone was excited, and then BAM!, the British government changed the tax law, and a movie that started with a $30 million budget doubled to $60 million and we had to close it down. But we were determined to make it. So along comes the director Justin Chadwick with this incredible cast of Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench, Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Matthew Morrison, Jack O’Connell, Holliday Grainger and Zack Galifanakis. Working on a much lower budget, we created 1634 Amsterdam in an English boarding school in Norfolk, a Herculean feat of production design. When you see the film, beautifully shot by Eigil Bryld, expert production design by Simon Elliot, equally great costume design by Michael O’Connor, it’s a spectacle. But it took longer than it should have to get it all done and in our business that means, “Uh-oh! Something must be wrong with it.”
It’s easy for some writers to focus on a delay and be snarky, and that’s fine because snarky can be entertaining. But as a result, we decided to do something different — we decided to test the film with novelists who didn’t know about the post-production story of Tulip Fever, and we were more than vindicated with their positive reactions. Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) said it was “beautifully filmed with a stellar cast that takes you to the atmospheric streets of Amsterdam at the height of the madness of ‘tulip fever’ when a single bulb could cost a fortune and a flower was worth more than a woman’s happiness.” Sally Bedell Smith (Diana In Search of Herself: Portrait Of A Troubled Princess) said it was “thoroughly suspenseful, stunningly filmed and beautifully acted.” Daniel James Brown (The Boys In The Boat) said he “was fully engaged right from the get-go, and [his] interest never flagged.” Anthony Doerr, Dan Jones, Jodi Picoult, Emma Donoghue and ML Stedman all had just as wonderful things to say about the film.
Last night I attended a screening of the film hosted by Tina Brown, Arianna Huffington, Martha Stewart and Robbie Myers. We had the likes of Julie Taymor, Daniel Silva (author of the Gabriel Allon series), Nelson DeMille (author of too many bestsellers to mention), Nanette Lepore, Cynthia Rowley, Trudie Styler, and Jennifer Morrison there. I spoke to the audience before the film — I was honest and let them know about the history of the movie but I asked them to have an open mind. Right after it finished, people were coming over to tell me how much they enjoyed the film. I know they meant it because believe me, I pressed them. No, they weren’t telling me that it’s Citizen Kane or Shakespeare In Love, but they loved the performances, the cinematography, the costumes, the twists and turns, and enjoyed it for the film it is. I’m sure that the critics will have their fun with it, but I’m proud of this movie, as is the rest of the team behind it. Tom Hollander wrote me an email immediately after he saw the final cut saying, “It’s great. Terrific cast, beautifully shot and great nuanced story. I realise you must have been round the houses with it all this time. But what you have now is really great. I am proud to be in it.” Alicia Vikander also reached out to tell me that her mom’s friend gave her a rare call just to tell her how much she enjoyed it.
As we near the end of the summer, after so many great films like Dunkirk, Good Time, Atomic Blonde and our own Wind River, Tulip Fever is a smart film for adults. And even if we don’t get a happy ending for the people behind it, my hope is that audiences will at least recognize the talent that went into making it and sticking with it. Justin Chadwick fluidly directed it with a wonderful cast who worked so hard and so long. Tom Stoppard and Deborah Moggach’s script is witty, ironic, and at times, deadly fun. I know this film’s not perfect, very few are, but it’s a perfectly good time in a movie theater. Writing this article is probably akin to putting a target on my back, but to paraphrase another far better writer, is it nobler to take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? I suppose this is my nuanced attempt to take arms against a sea of troubles.
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