Lowdown: A possible story behind the famous painting.
2003’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is a film with potential. It a film that tries to give its version of the story behind a famous painting, thus using art to make a statement on the artistic creation process. It also features Colin Firth, who is always an attraction (as a bonus we have a much younger looking Firth than what we got with the more recent The King’s Speech). At the time of its initial release, Pearl Earring also featured a young and good looking actress who recently burst into everyone’s attention through Lost in Translation. I’m talking about Scarlett Johansson, who – through the benefit of hindsight – managed to get on most of our nerves since.
Set in 16th century Holland, Girl with a Pearl Earring tells us of a young woman, Griet (Johansson), whose parents have to give away to work as a maid when the father goes blind. Her assignment is at the household of the real life artist Johannes Vermeer (Firth), who is mainly busy painting for a rich guy’s (Tom Wilkinson) commissions.
What follows is the story of how Griet gets along in the household, with its demanding work (life was hard back then) and demanding people. Between the household's other maids, the wife, the mother in law and the jealous children, Griet’s life is quite hard. A young butcher’s apprentice falls for Griet and provides a certain source of relief, but the main event is Griet’s developing relationship with Vermeer himself.
Firth comes into the picture through a series of scenes featuring him frowning and looking particularly engaged with his artistic work. Things don’t get much better, but between the period piece storytelling and the development of his relationship with Griet on the other hand, Girl with a Pearl Earring is definitely interesting. Music adds a lot to the quality of the presentation, but in general we’re talking here of a film about a forbidden love affair (Vermeer’s wife is never far) providing artistic muse – while all the participants know the tragic circumstances Vermeer’s previous muse ended up like.
We all know how the story ends: Vermeer will paint Griet, by hook or by crook; after all, we can watch that painting on the Internet or physically if we visit Hague. What we therefore have rolling in front of us is a fatalistic tale of forbidden love and the necessary compromises that go with it.
Best scene: Griet does the washing. She does it the way they really used to, sometimes when the temperature is freezing. It’s nice to be authentic when what usually passes for Masters & Servants drama is exaggerated euphemisms of servants’ life ala Downton Abbey that are meant to make you think of good old days that never were.
Overall: I don’t know how authentic the suggested story behind the scenes of the famous painting is, but I liked it mostly because of its authentic period piece story telling. 3 out of 5 stars.