The Miniaturist tells the story of 18-year-old Nella who moves to Amsterdam after her marriage to a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. Expecting to find her husband, instead, she meets his sister Marin and their two servants, Cornelia and Otto. After a less than warm welcome, Nella receives a dollhouse from Johannes as a wedding gift. A replica of the home she lives in, Nella hires a mysterious miniaturist to furnish the dollhouse.
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What begins is a slow progression of lifelike gifts from the Miniaturist that replicate items and people in the house down to the most intricate detail. When the gifts begin to foreshadow the future, Nella begins to unravel the mysteries of her new home and the Miniaturist. As the danger escalates, Nella will either save or destroy them all.
The Miniaturist Review
Based on the bestselling novel by Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist is a lavish production with beautiful sets and costumes. In fact, I can’t say enough about the costumes. The detail is meticulous and the colors are splendid. The Puritan nature of Marin’s costumes contrasts beautifully with Nella’s bright, youthful colors. Often, Nella’s clothing is jarring to a moment. The bold colors become garish during moments of extreme emotion. The clothing not only reflects the characters but also the mood of the scene.
More often than not, each scene of The Miniaturist has an underlying tension. The secrets are many and the characters do not hide the fact they are keeping secrets. When we first see Nella, there is a feeling of excitement. She’s on a journey, soon to be with her new husband. That feeling of excitement changes almost immediately. From the moment Nella steps inside her new home, the suspense begins to build. The uncertainty of Nella’s future does not disappear with her marriage. In fact, it seems her life is even more uncertain. Contributing to the suspense are the prophetic gifts from the Miniaturist.
Every gift is eerie in its likeness to an actual object in the home or a person. You will constantly wonder if these are clues or warnings for Nella to follow. And the motives of the Miniaturist are questionable to the very end. The cast is fantastic at heightening the emotions of the scenes. In fact, the best thing about The Miniaturist is the cast. The dialogue is sparse and thus, every gesture and look says more than words.
The Cast of The Miniaturist
As lovely as Anya Taylor-Joy is, it is Romola Garai that is truly the star. Garai steals the series with her delivery and expression. She is perfectly clear in her dislike of Nella. Her need to continue to control her brother’s home is plain. Her pious nature is the perfect contrast to her subtle digs at Nella’s expense. Even better are Marin’s petty acts. Perhaps my favorite was Marin delivering the wrong measurements for Nella to the modiste. Just so all of Nella’s new gowns would be too big. Frankly, I don’t think The Miniaturist would be the same without Garai.
Another scene-stealing performer is Paapa Essiedu. As Otto, Esseidu brings a quiet dignity to the screen. He is the calm amidst the storm. Rounding out the cast is Hayley Squires as Cornelia and Alex Hassell as Johannes. Unfortunately, I did find the chemistry between Taylor-Joy and Hassell off. While this is somewhat understandable (NO SPOILERS!), there was always something inexplicably missing from their scenes. However, together, Taylor-Joy, Garai, Esseidu, Squires and Hassell bring their A game, lifting The Miniaturist from stilted monotony.
While The Miniaturist is enjoyable, I cannot deny that it is slow. It moved so slowly that at times, I dozed off. Overall, though, fans of BBC’s period pieces will enjoy this new addition to their library.
The Miniaturist is available online with your PBS membership or limited reshowings on your cable service.
Content Warning: Mild sexual content and some gore and violence.
Did you watch The Miniaturist? What did you think? I’m curious, did you find it slow and occasionally stilted? Drop me a line below!
Photo Credit: BBC/PBS Masterpiece