Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003): A Visually Stunning Work of Art


Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring Review

Girl with a Pearl Earring is based on a novel by Tracey Chevalier. The source material creates a backstory for the portrait of the same name by Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. Although the identity of the beautiful girl who inspired Vermeer to paint his masterpiece is elusive, Chevalier crafted her story based on a series of clues on Vermeer’s life.

It should be noted that I was slow to see Girl with a Pearl Earring. It was during a resurgence of my love of Colin Firth that I saw the film in mid-2000. While still broody and arguably taciturn, Colin Firth has long hair, a scruffy jaw and does not resemble Mr. Darcy in any way.

Don’t Get Caught Up In His World

Set in 1665, the story begins with Griet (Scarlett Johannson), a 17-year-old sent to work in the household of Johannes Vermeer. The household is troubled; a noisy cacophony of sound, filled with adults and children who see Griet as inferior. At the heart of the home is its temperamental breadwinner, Vermeer (Colin Firth) whose ability to produce works of art is the main source of income for the family. Making the situation dire is the fact that Vermeer’s wife Catharina (Essie Davis) is once again with child, adding another mouth feed.

He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face

Vermeer, however, is far from winning the husband of the year award. As an artist, his output is driven by a temperamental muse. Despite commissions by a wealthy, arrogant patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) the family always seems one step from debtors prison.

Girl with a Pearl Earring
RELATED: Top 16 Movies With Colin Firth As the Romantic Leading Man

In spite of his household’s eccentricities, Griet finds Vermeer and his work intriguing. Tasked with cleaning his studio, she develops an interest in the room and its artistic contents. Griet has an eye for colour and detail, something Vermeer quickly notices. Discovering his maid as his latest muse, Griet becomes somewhat of an apprentice to Vermeer and helps him mix paints and discuss some of his composition and works. For Vermeer, she is a breath of fresh air, someone who understands his passion and encourages his artistic endeavours. His wife is jealous, underscored by his response to her query around why he would not paint her. Simply he states, “because you don’t understand.”

Stifled by the class structure of the day, Vermeer and Griet are unable to act on their budding attraction. Complicating matters is the fact that Vermeer is dependent on a patron and financier who has his eye on Griet.

You’re A Fly In His Web… We All Are

Girl with the Pearl Earring is sensitively handled by Peter Webber. The film sticks closely to the source material and yet remains captivating. The set design is incredible as the use of colours emphasises the world Vermeer lives in.

You’re so calm and quiet, you never say. But there are things inside you. I see them sometimes, hiding in your eyes

In particular, Webber is able to recreate the lighting made so famous in Vermeer’s work. The score, like the beautiful cinematography, is incredibly haunting and gives life to the fragile relationships that permeate the film.

You Looked Inside Me

Girl with a Pearl Earring

As Vermeer, Colin Firth is distant and distracted. When he eventually notices Griet, their attraction is all the more powerful because of his moody indifference. Vermeer is taciturn and eccentric and it’s fascinating to see his appreciation for Griet slowly colour his view.

RELATED: Romantic Elegance – Noblemen as Romantic Heroes in Fiction

Scarlett Johannson is incredibly beautiful as Griet. She has an uncanny resemblance to the actual subject of Vermeer’s painting. She deserves praise for her ability to play Griet as she should be – unpretentious and natural. And this is a quality that Vermeer veritably inhales. The tangible sexual chemistry between Firth and Johannsen is palpable. They manage to create a strong emotional bond that is quite spellbinding.

Girl with the Pearl Earring is not without fault, however. The story suffers mainly from a lack of decent characterisation and growth. Colin Firth is wonderful, but he merely scratches the surface of an incredibly complex character. The supporting cast is also mainly wasted in a film that really is all about the artist and his muse. Some might also find the film too meandering and a little light on drama.

Despite its flaws, the wonderful direction, set design and score make this worth a watch.

Content Note: Girl with a Pearl Earring is rated PG-13 for mild sexual content.

Where to Watch: Girl with a Pearl Earring is available to watch on Amazon VideoGirl with a Pearl Earring is also available on DVD.


Photo credit: Pathé,  Lionsgate

OVERALL RATING

“You had me at hello.”

ROMANCE RATING

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My

feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me

to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Naazneen Samsodien

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Naazneen hails from South Africa and has spent most of her life steeped quite happily in fandom. A corporate Human Resource professional by day, she completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and is currently completing her MPhil at the University of Cape Town. She spends her nights in a parallel universe where her creative pursuits find meaningful outlets. When she is not doing research, writing fanfiction or reading the latest novel for her book club, she is voraciously consuming information on pop culture and global socio-political issues - or quite simply, travelling the world. She loves words, fangirling shamelessly, Mr. Darcy and rugged beards... a lot.

  • Yet another movie for my Netflix DVD queue. 🙂

    • Naazneen Samsodien

      I watched it for Colin initially. Its delicious!

  • Elinor Cackett

    I loved the book and was quite pleased with the adaptation. I didn’t realise Essie Davies played Vermeer’s wife. Great review!

CLOSE

 

The Silver Petticoat Review

Join The Fun!

Join us as we connect you with the best of old-fashioned romance & storytelling from around the world. Subscribe for exclusive access to a fun & helpful monthly newsletter and once a week article updates.

Subscribe

CLOSE

Thank you for subscribing!