With ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ director Peter Webber was given a great story to work with, (Olivia Hetread wrote the screenplay from the best selling novel by Tracy Chevalier), and he have came up with a quite exquisite film.
The film takes place in the mid 1600’s where a young girl named Griet (Scarlett Johansson) goes to work as a maid for the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Vermeer has lately been going through artists’ block. He notices Griet’s presence when she tidies up his studio. He is drawn to the way she seems to have an understanding of the artistic process and requests she work as his studio assistant. This causes waves in the household with Vermeer’s wife Catharina (Essie Davis) wary of her husbands’ motives.
I have spent plenty of time reflecting on Webber’s film, and to its profound effect on me. There were two main attractions.
Firstly, there was the way that I could feel inside the characters as they tried to get their own way despite all the obstacles in their paths.
Little Griet, disadvantaged from her poor background, trying to receive acceptance in the artists’ household…Griet’s rivalry with one of Vermeer’s young daughters who from the start made her feel unwelcome and competes for attention…Vermeer, the single minded artist, trying to ward off his wife’s possessiveness and insecurity. The childlike Catharina who wants her husbands attention all the time…Her mother, Maria, forever practical and trying to balance everyone’s needs.
The films’ other strong attraction was how deeply in love with the art of painting it was. Vermeer is drawn to Griet because she has an innate understanding of painting. She knows about light and angle…When Vermeer commits to doing her portrait, the power of the painting seems to be as much to do with her as with him.
Most films have one scene that stand out above all others. In Webber’s film, it is when Maria gives her daughters’ treasured pearl earrings to use in Griet’s painting.
For Maria this is a huge compromise, with so much at stake. On one hand she knows that her ‘gift’ will, more than likely, seal the brilliance of Vermeer’s painting. On the other hand, when her daughter finds out, she will be furious and unforgiving.
Summing up, I found ‘The Girl With A Pearl Earring’ a quite exquisite film. The performances were strong, none more so than Judy Parfitt as Maria. Her performance as the main power broker was simply chilling.