Casting the Classics – ‘Miss Julie’

August Strindberg’s naturalistic cornerstone, Miss Julie, is a play with which I’m rather intimately familiar at this point. I’ve studied it for an exam (which, incidentally, I have on Wednesday), and I went to see a production of it over the summer with my brother.

And so, I think I can cast it rather well really, and without further ado, here’s my cast for a cinematic adaptation of Miss Julie:

Allison Janney as Christine.

Christine is an interesting character. Maternal and selfless, but only up to a point, and when John plans to do something that she is convinced is nothing short of foolish and doomed to fail, she’s more than willing to speak out against it.

Janney’s shown the maternal, and perhaps more vicious side in The Help, and The West Wing proved that she’s a damn fine actress. Her performances show that she can carry through the various facets of the character.

Between that and the presence she brings to the screen in whatever role she’s given, it’s easy to see her coming across as slightly domineering, especially when playing across from John, who becomes gradually more emasculated as the play goes on.

Michael C. Hall as John

When discussing the idea of Janney as Christine, I touched on the idea of presence, and the natural gravitas Janney would bring to the role. Stage presence (or screen presence in this case) is important in Miss Julie, and is most important for the character of John.

The thing with John, is that since he’s constantly warring with Julie, his presence fluctuates, certainly more than hers does. There are times when he practically devours the stage with his presence, and others where, emasculated and afraid, he sinks into the background. Hall can do those things. His gravitas and presence alone in Dexter is enough to make him frightening and powerful, and in Six Feet Under, his presence and self-worth move together, as he ebbs and flows to and from the centre of the screen, to a cowering shadow of a man.

John is a character of dualities. He has power over Julie because he is male (Strindberg being historically misogynistic), but is less than her because of his lower social class. He is at once arrogant and emasculated, angry and cowardly. Michael C. Hall has shown in both his screen and stage work (in Cabaret, the Emcee is gradually chipped away at, until he is essentially a ghost of the extroverted, confident and charismatic enigma that he is at the beginning of the show), that he can not only play these two sides of a character, but that he can switch between them, practically on a whim.

Marion Cotillard as Miss Julie

Julie is a tough role to cast, certainly a little tougher than the other two. She’s more difficult to interpret, less of solid entity to grasp, especially given that she’s outgrown the “man hating half woman” that Strindberg describes her as.

Julie is less of a dual character than John, but is more a character of contradictions. Upper class father and lower class mother, repressed and sexual at once (in some productions, she is a virgin before sleeping with John, in spite of her sexualised manner). Cotillard can do these things, she can play an seemingly unaware ingénue, a woman who’s reality slowly dawns on her, who is almost forced to come to terms with the reality of her situation.

With a somewhat fragile appearance, but a commanding gravitas in front of the camera, Cotillard can effectively embody the contradiction that is Julie, and watching her perform the role would no doubt lead to a fierce and fascinating interpretation of the iconic theatrical aristocrat who falls, almost tragically, from grace.


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