Miss Julie (1951): Alf Sjöberg’s Powerful Version of Strindberg’s Famous Play (Cannes Fest Top Winner)

From Our Vaults:

Alf Sjöberg directed Miss Julie, a startlingly intense Swedish drama, starring Anita Björk in a feverish performance, based on August Strindberg’s famous 1888 play.

Miss Julie

Theatrical release poster

The film deals with social class, sexual desire, and power as the title character, a Count’s daughter in 19th century Sweden, begins an illicit relationship with one of the estate’s servants.

After scandalous broken engagement, Miss Julie, the daughter of Count Carl, forgoes a family Midsummers’ Eve celebration to “honor” the estate servants’ ball.

She dances with one of the servants, Jean, whom she is attracted to. She orders him to sit at the table with her for beers, and humiliatingly forces him to kiss her shoe. Outside, she makes advances on him; the hand, hiding behind a sculpture, witnesses the encounter.

Jean confesses that he loved her as a boy, when he lived in poverty and saw her on the estate, but he was chased off as an “urchin.”

Julie and Jean realize the scandal if they are seen together. They try to escape and hide, but the hand has already told of what he saw.

Jean, condemning the tradition and class bias of Sweden, wishes to take a train to Italy, where he can run a hotel with Julie’s investment.  When Julie says she has no money, he is shocked by his sudden demeanor of callousness.

Unconcerned about her fears of the Count’s reaction, he reveals he is not willing to die for her as he had suggested.

Julie then recounts her girlhood, how her mother Berta was commoner who believed in women’s rights and had to be persuaded to marry. She married Count Carl, and they had Julie, who was dressed in boy’s clothes, but Julie preferred playing with dolls.

The Countess set fire to their home, and the Count attempted suicide by firearm. Upon hearing of the story, Jean feels superior, as Julie is the daughter of an arsonist.

Before leaving on Midsummers’ Day, Jean sees Julie’s finch Serine, and claims they cannot take a birdcage. Julie says she would rather Serine die than be left behind, and Jean breaks its neck.

Upon return, the Count realizes that Julie has killed herself by razor, under the portrait of the late Countess.

Sjöberg had directed a stage adaption of Strindberg’s Miss Julie in 1949, starring Ulf Palme as Jean and Inga Tidblad. For the film version, many of the set designs were kept. Tidblad, however, was 50 and had to be replaced by Anita Björk, 27.

In the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hitchcock said he had hired Björk as the lead for I Confess in 1952, after seeing Miss Julie. However, when Björk arrived in Hollywood with her lover Stig Dagerman and baby, Jack Warner demanded another actress, and Anne Baxter was cast.

Despite some liberties taken with the play, the movie version was deeply disturbing and compelling.

Critical Status:

Alf Sjöberg won the highest honor of the Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Prix du Festival, the equivalent of the Palme d’Or in later years. Sjöberg was the first Swedish director to win the award, and the only one until 2017, when Ruben Östlund won for The Square.

Miss Julie was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Film in 1952.

Anita Björk as Miss Julie
Ulf Palme as Jean
Märta Dorff as Kristin, cook
Lissi Alandh as Countess Berta, Julie’s mother
Anders Henrikson as Count Carl, Julie’s father
Inga Gill as Viola
Åke Fridell as Robert
Kurt-Olof Sundström as Julie’s fiancé
Max von Sydow as hand
Margaretha Krook as governess
Åke Claesson as doctor
Inger Norberg as Julie as a child
Jan Hagerman as Jean as a child


Directed, written by Alf Sjöberg
Produced by Rune Waldekranz
Based on “Miss Julie,” 1888 play by August Strindberg
Music by Dag Wirén
Cinematography Göran Strindberg
Edited by Lennart Wallén

Production company: AB Sandrew-Produktion

Release date: April 6, 1951 (Cannes Fest);  July 30, 1951

Running time: 89 minutes