Girl With a Pearl Earring
3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Jan Vermeer - Girl with a Pearl Earring, c.1665 Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
Based on Tracy Chevalier's novel, which imagined an entire story behind the eponymous Vermeer painting, this film is beautifully made right down to the tiniest details ... but it's still just a 17th century chick flick! We're in 1665 Delft, where everyone speaks perfect English: When her father is injured in an accident, Griet (Johansson) is forced to go to work as a maid in the home of the Vermeer family. While Johannes (Firth) stays in his studio creating his next painting, the house bustles with life under the watchful, controlling eye of his mother-in-law (Parfitt). As Griet begins a tentative romance with a local butcher (Murphy), Vermeer notices that she has an eye for light and colour, and soon lures her into his studio to assist him. Then his patron Van Ruijven (Wilkinson) shockingly commissions a portrait of Griet and scandal threatens to engulf them all.

The plot is fairly contrived and melodramatic, like a pulp romance novel with lots of heaving bosoms and barely repressed desires--handsome poor boys, scary rich men, sexy untouchables, controlling old bags and cruelly jealous girls. Every element is here, and yet the story keeps us gripped due to its refusal to give into standard Hollywood plot structures. Meanwhile, the acting is far above average, with Johansson delivering yet another strikingly solid performance as a young girl waking up to the world around her, and making difficult decisions about her future. Firth, Wilkinson and Murphy add life to their rather underwritten roles, while the rest of the women are efficient stereotypes swirling around Griet. The production design is absolutely beautiful--each frame looks like a 17th century Dutch masterpiece! And Webber's direction is artfully light-handed; several scenes take our breath away with their raw beauty, often combined with a strong emotional resonance. So it's a bit frustrating that the film is so portentous; it takes itself so seriously that it's hard for us to really believe it. But in Johansson's remarkably expressive eyes, it still has the power to move us.

cert 12tbc themes, innuendo, sex 3.Sep.03

dir Peter Webber
scr Olivia Hetreed
with Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Judy Parfitt, Cillian Murphy, Joanna Scanlan, Essie Davis, Alakina Man, Chris McHallem, Gabrielle Reidy, Anna Popplewell, Anais Nepper
release US 12.Dec.03; UK 16.Jan.04
03/UK 1h40

Forbidden love: Johansson and Firth.

johansson firth
wilkinson murphy

23rd Shadows Awards
ACTRESS Johansson

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... sw "I attended the gala of the movie at the 28th Toronto International Film Festival. My impressions of Girl With a Pearl Earring, from start to finish: it's as though you were watching a painting come alive. It pulls you into the life of the people in this painting and you feel for the two main characters. The colours, the cinematography, the fact that there was little dialogue especially; all of it was pure magic. Peter Webber and his crew deserve acclaim and the amazing Colin Firth was the one and only Vermeer. I really can't say enough about it. What a wonderful experience. Can't wait for it to come out in general release. Two very big thumbs up." --VermeerSA, Montreal 13.Sep.03
2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall