Girl With a Pearl Earring

          Tracy Chevalier's novel took what little was known about the
  17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and spun a fascinating tale
  of a servant girl who became the subject for one of the painter's best-
  known paintings, the girl with a pearl earring. (I am aware that one can
  quibble over the title as the piece of jewelry in question was probably
  made of pewter and wasn't a pearl, but that takes a little away from
  Chevalier's conceit.)

          The feature film version of the novel, directed by Peter Webber and
  scripted by Olivia Hetreed, is a superlative rendering of the novel and one
  of the most gloriously photographed films in years. Cinematographer
  Eduardo Serra, who received an Academy Award nomination for his great
  work on
WINGS OF THE DOVE, should probably start to prepare his
  acceptance speech now, for I cannot think of another film this year that's
  deserving. Serra has duplicated the use of light and shadow in such a
  manner that every frame of the film is composed as if painted by Vermeer.

          Hetreed's script streamlines the novel but remains faithful to its
  spirit. Griet (Scarlett Johannson) is the daughter of a tile maker gone
  blind. Her family's impoverished circumstances force her to accept a
  position as servant in the household of Vermeer (Colin Firth) and his
  fecund wife (Essie Davis). Among her duties is the cleaning of the
  master's studio. Although illiterate, Griet knows that something as
  simple as cleaning the windows may have an adverse effect. It isn't
  long before she's assisting Vermeer in his work, grinding and mixing
  colors for him, making subtle suggestions to his work, and eventually,
  having to pose for the titular painting which was a commission from
  the artist's oily patron (Tom Wilkinson).

          The performances are all first-rate. Johannson captures Griet's
  innate intelligence and spirit, but she also projects the knowledge that
  the character is aware of her place in society. She doesn't have a great
  deal of dialogue, but the young actress (so good as the bored young
  housewife in
LOST IN TRANSLATION) manages to express a great deal
  through the body language and facial expressions. Firth conveys the
  unarticulated longings and emotions of a man trapped in a marriage that
  results in more and more children, yet which finds such amazing creative
  outlet in his art. Wilkinson cuts loose as the lecherous patron, while
  Essie Davis is believable as the painter's jealous wife. Cillian Murphy
28 DAYS LATER) does a nice turn as a butcher infatuated with Griet
  while the magnificent Judy Parfitt is appropriately imperious as Davis'
  mother who is aware of Griet's unsettling effect in the household but
  who tolerates it because it will bring in more money.

          GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING is one of the 2003's best films, a
  superb dramatization of a literate and captivating novel. It is a feast for
  the eyes and it confirms that Scarlett Johannson is one of her
  generation's most talented and versatile actresses.

                                    Rating:                    A-
                                    Running time:         116 mins.
                                    MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for some sexual content
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.