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Miss Julie

The works of August Strindberg, long considered one of the world's

greatest dramatists, are often characterized as misogynistic and not

without reason.

Working out his own psychological problems (he was illegitimate and

thrice married), the Swedish author wrote essays titled "Woman's

Inferiority to Man" and grappled with the battle of the sexes in several

of his plays, including the one-act "Miss Julie" that has made its way

to film in an adaptation directed by Mike Figgis.

While it's unlikely that this film will achieve blockbuster status, it

should find a receptive audience from the art-house crowd.

"Miss Julie" is essentially a two-hander pitting a spoiled, neurotic

aristocrat's daughter against her father's handsome, if coarse, footman.

The pair engages in a flirtation that leads to sex that leads to

recriminations and ultimately to tragedy. Strindberg was not only

writing about the battles between men and women but also the class

struggle, with the footman often viewed as a social climber.

In addition to providing great roles for two strong actors, the play is

malleable enough to accommodate a more contemporary resonance. For

example, in some productions, a racial element is introduced as in a

1980s production that moved the play's setting from Sweden to South


The play has been filmed three times before -- a 1912 Swedish silent,

the 1951 Swedish version with Anita Bjork long considered the standard,

and a 1972 British adaptation with a stunning performance by Helen

Mirren. Now it's Saffron Burrows' turn to tackle the role in Figgis'

filming of Helen Carpenter's translation.

A predominant theme in Figgis' work is the fall from grace, never more

baldly addressed than in 1999's "The Loss of Sexual Innocence." So it

follows that he would be attracted by Strindberg's play as it depicts

the castigation of both of its key players. While there are inherent

pitfalls to filming what is essentially a two-character drama played out

on one set, Carpenter's adaptation "opened up" the action just enough,

and the virtuoso camerawork by Benoit Delhomme aided Figgis in his


It also helped that the director hired three fine actors, each

contributing sterling work. Although the fine Irish actress Maria Doyle

Kennedy was saddled with the basically thankless role of Christine, the

overworked cook and lover to the footman Jean, she still managed to make

an impression. Burrows looks appropriately regal and aristocratic, but

at first she appears miscast. Only as the film unfolds do her acting

choices in the early scenes come to make sense and her performance grows

in stature and power.

Matching her is the extraordinary Scottish actor Peter Mullan (perhaps

most known for his searing work as a recovering alcoholic in "My Name Is

Joe"). Compact and fiery, Mullan crafts a portrait of a man who both

knows his station but aspires to something more. He and Burrows also

share that ineffable thing called screen chemistry, and each seems to

elicit the best from the other.

Some may quibble about the necessity for yet another version of this

work, but as the world moves into a new century, Figgis and company

clearly point out that for all the advances in technology, the

fundamental difference between the sexes continues. "Miss Julie" may be

set in the 1880s, but it continues to resonate in the 1990s and beyond.

* MPAA rating: R, for language and a scene of sexuality.

"Miss Julie"

Saffron Burrows: Miss Julie

Peter Mullan: Jean

Maria Doyle Kennedy: Christine

An MGM/UA presentation. Director Mike Figgis. Screenplay Mike Figgis and

Helen Cooper. Play August Strindberg. Producers Mike Figgis and Harriet

Cruickshank. Director of photography Benoit Delhomme. Editor Matthew

Wood. Production designer Michael Howells. Costume designer Sandy

Powell. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.