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Strindberg's study of the embattled relationship between Miss Julie Saffron Burrows , the imperious, profoundly neurotic daughter of a wealthy count, and Jean Peter Mullan , the virile, opportunistic footman whom she goads into a sexual liaison, casts the coldest of eyes at unleashed human sexuality. In the play's frigid world of repressed aristocrats and randy servants, a sensual upper-class woman's lifting the lid on her own seething libido is tantamount to self-destruction. Although the lower classes are free to rut as they please in one scene, a group of servant girls cavort around the kitchen singing lewd songs about the sexual uses for garden vegetables , what keeps their appetites in check are fear for their livelihoods and the bromide of religion. Jean's sanctimonious fiancee, Christine Maria Doyle Kennedy , who works in the count's kitchen, fervently subscribes to the notion that a rich man has about as good a chance of entering the kingdom of heaven as a camel does of passing through the eye of a needle. How then does the play's erotic ethos relate to today's sexually commodified culture of Calvin Klein, Frederick's of Hollywood, breast implants and Viagra? The brutal power struggle between Miss Julie and Jean and the kinds of abuse they hurl at one another might be compared to a stormy affair between a rebellious Park Avenue debutante and an aspiring gangsta rapper hoping to seduce her into subsidizing his fledgling record company.
The film deals with class, sex and power as the title character, the daughter of a Count in 19th century Sweden, begins a relationship with one of the estate's servants. Following a scandalous broken engagement, Miss Julie, the daughter of Count Carl, forgoes a family Midsummers' Eve celebration to "honour" the estate servants' ball with her presence. There, 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 in shock. Miss Julie asks Jean if he has ever been in love. He replies 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". The servants march forward, singing and looking for Jean; Julie and Jean realize the scandal that will erupt if they are seen together, and attempt to escape and hide, but the hand has already told of what he saw. Jean and Julie contemplate escape; Jean, condemning the tradition and class bias of Sweden, wishes to take a train to Italy, where he can run a hotel with investment capital from Julie.