Colin Firth as Vermeer
Scarlett Johansson as Griet
Tom Wilkinson as Van Ruijven
Judy Parfitt as Maria Thins
Cillian Murphy as Pieter
Essie Davis as Catharina
Joanna Scanlan as Tanneke
Alakina Mann as Cornelia
Chris McHallem as Griet’s Father
Gabrielle Reidy as Griet’s Mother
Rollo Weeks as Frans
Anna Popplewell as Maertge
Anaïs Nepper as Lisbeth
Nathan Nepper as Johannes
Geoff Bell as Paul the Butcher
Johannes Vermeer had a short but wonderful career as a painter in the seventeenth century Dutch city of Delft. While little is known of his life and he left behind a relatively small body of work, he is considered one of the grand master painters of his era. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is one of his most admired paintings. Tracy Chevalier’s book of the same name created a fictional story about the circumstances behind the creation of it.
In this movie adaptation of the book, Colin Firth plays Vermeer; a middle aged, quiet, and methodical painter. His wife Catharina (Essie Davis) provides the house with a steady stream of new children thus requiring the employment of a second maid, Griet (Scarlett Johansson). Griet is also a quiet person and looks at the world with the same attention to detail that Vermeer does. He sees in her a kindred spirit and lets her into the private world of his artistic creations.
The similarities between what is known of Vermeer’s life and the movie end with Vermeer living with his wife and mother-in-law and him receiving the patronage of the wealthy businessman Pieter Claez van Ruijven – making the plot a romantic fantasy with historical figures to give it flair. It is a nice fantasy though and very well acted. Scarlett Johansson, who is in almost every scene, carries the film well. Her character does not speak much but her expression and mannerisms convey a lot of emotion. A great performance by a young actress.
Director of photography Eduardo Serra is the real star. Constantly the choice of camera angles and the framing of the film evoke memories of the works of Vermeer and other Dutch masters. Although only three paintings by Vermeer are discussed in the film, moving replicas of some of his other works can easily be seen. The living space of Vermeer in the film reflects the images that exist in Vermeer’s paintings, giving the feeling that you are looking at where Vermeer created his art.
Who should see this movie? If you enjoy the works of Vermeer you will find the homage given to him here very satisfying. The romance is there and manifests itself through the painting process and the love of painting. It is mostly subdued but does boil to the surface a few times. If you are looking for action or comedy then you should look elsewhere because there is virtually none of either. “Girl With a Pearl Earring” is the story of a young girl whose eyes to the world are opened by her proximity to works of beauty and the inspiration that she creates in them.
The movie is in many ways like a painting itself. It is beautiful to look at but draws very few conclusions, leaving the viewers to develop their own thoughts on the subjects they have just looked at.