Miss Julie

The title character in August Strindberg’s oft-adapted 1888 play still is a plum role for female actors eager to move beyond being merely an ingénue, and in Jessica Chastain’s performance here, unfortunately, that eagerness is the takeaway. We see a lot of actorly fireworks, and some intense fuse-lighting focus, yet somehow she just never seems fully in the moment. Adapted and directed by Liv Ullmann, with all the fiercely assured sensitivity we’d expect from the most distinguished alumna of Ingmar Bergman films, this Miss Julie transplants the action — a long dark night of power plays between a baron’s daughter and her father’s valet — from Sweden to Ireland, with Colin Farrell as Chastain’s challenger, and Samantha Morton as his wounded and deceptively stoical fiancee, the house cook. Ullmann stays wise to Strindberg’s pitiless if arguably woman-phobic adult understanding of human feelings, and matches his skill for bringing upstairs-downstairs melodrama to a bleak boiling point. Echoing with a tuneful Schubert piano trio, this cavernous yet airless mansion is the perfect arena for a war between lovers, or would-be lovers, whose fusillades include much shouting, sobbing, and mutual bootlicking. Chastain’s exertions aside, it may also be the most trembly Colin Farrell performance on record. What redeems it from self-parody, and testifies to its longevity, is Ullmann’s force of will.