In 1665 a young Dutch girl goes to the house of the Vermeer family to work as a servant. Griet (Scarlett Johansson) has to work hard – cleaning and washing for the family. She also has to clean the studio of her stern master Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) who is a painter. She is interested in the paintings and Johannes allows her to help him in his studio where she learns about light and colour, and mixing paints. Griet spends more and more time helping the painter and this doesn’t go unnoticed by his wife and daughter who become increasingly envious…
The film is based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier and looks at the story behind the famous painting (Girl With A Pearl Earring) which was painted by the Dutch Master, Johannes Vermeer in Holland in 1665. The film won’t appeal to everyone as it is quite slow and deliberate but it is beautifully filmed with subtle images and suggestions.
One of the challenges for the great painters was to capture light in their paintings. The film mirrors the importance of light by using it to cleverly illustrate joy and also to give a sense of foreboding. Darkness, shadows, sunlight and candlelight are used appropriately to set the tone as the story is told.
As well as the subtle use of light, parts of the story simple rely on an understated glance or expression from one of the characters. Some of these expressions tell a multitude and Scarlett Johansson who plays Girth has wonderfully expressive eyes. Sometimes more is said by what isn’t spoken!
17th century Holland is brilliantly recreated and you get a reel feel for how the Vermeer family lived. The servants worked hard and were paid little but the family also lived under the strain of having to obtain patronage for the paintings and like the servants they too were dependent on others to make a living.
Colin Firth puts in a good performance as Johannes Vermeer who is moody and absorbed in his work but also passionate. Vermeer might be a genius but not much of a ‘people-person’! For this reason he doesn’t get too many lines!
Scarlett Johansson gives a memorable performance as the young innocent servant girl whose beauty attracts the attention of her master. Her expressive eyes are better than any script!
Bottom Line: Some will find the pace a little slow but this movie is beautifully filmed and acted.
Lasting Thought: If, like me, you have little interest in looking at famous paintings this film might change your mind. For me the painting is no longer a painting of a girl with a pearl earring. It is now a painting of Griet, a girl, a real person with a story. The painting hangs in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague.