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