Girl With A Pearl Earring

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Beautifully photographed and featuring a superb performance by Scarlett Johansson, this is a rewarding drama that is shot through with a palpable erotic intensity.

Girl With A Pearl Earring is a period drama based on the best-selling novel by Tracy Chevalier. Primarily a British production, it’s directed by Peter Webber, making his feature debut. As such, it’s an extremely enjoyable drama: sumptuous, erotic and beautifully photographed, with superb performances from its cast.

17th Century Holland

The film is set in 17th century Holland in the city of Delft and the story takes an imaginary look at the events surrounding the creation of Vermeer’s most famous painting. Scarlett Johansson (Ghost World, The Man Who Wasn’t There) stars as Griet, a 17 year old girl who becomes a maid in the house of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Though separated by both class and education, Vermeer recognises her intuitive understanding of colour and light and gradually allows her to assist with his painting.

Their tender, clandestine relationship, though never overtly sexual, nonetheless comes at great risk, particularly from Vermeer’s jealous, spiteful daughter Cornelia (Alakina Mann). However, Vermeer’s shrewd mother-in-law Maria (Judy Parfitt) realises that Griet inspires Vermeer and she takes the dangerous decision to hide the details from his neurotic wife Catharina (Essie Davis).

Meanwhile, Griet finds herself in danger of an entirely different sort from Vermeer’s wealthy, lusty patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), an extremely perilous position to be in, given that Vermeer depends on Van Ruijven’s patronage…

Impeccable Period Detail

The period detail of the film is impeccable and the dull, grimy atmosphere is heightened considerably by Eduardo Serra’s superlative photography, which constantly draws attention to light and shade. There’s also an effective score by the gloriously named Alexandre Desplat.

Johansson is perfectly cast in the lead role and gives a wonderful performance – her resemblance to the girl in the painting is astonishing. Since she doesn’t have much dialogue, a large part of her performance is conveyed through her face and eyes and at times she’s positively hypnotic to watch. The other performances are good too, particularly Firth (putting his trademarked ‘dark, brooding’ performance to splendid use) and Wilkinson, who seems to be having altogether too much fun as Van Ruijven. There’s also good support from Cillian Murphy as the butcher’s apprentice who falls in love with Griet.

The film is full of memorable scenes – Cornelia’s eventual punishment is a thoroughly satisfying highlight. The crowning sequence of the film, however, concerns the preparation for the painting itself: Vermeer piercing Griet’s ears and repeatedly asking her to wet her lips are intensely erotic, unforgettable scenes.

In short, Girl With A Pearl Earring is a well-written, well-directed, extremely rewarding drama with an astonishing central performance from Johansson – don’t be surprised if she picks up an Oscar nomination come February. Highly recommended.

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Girl With A Pearl Earring
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Content updated: 18/01/2020 10:27

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