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Alone With Some Young Beauty

December 11th, 2010 · No Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after yet another person with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Female Artist”, “Mac Computer” and “Underwear” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
Directed by Peter Webber
Screenplay by Olivia Hetreed, based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier
Produced by Andy Paterson, Anand Tucker
100 minutes

Illuminating a corner of history with mesmerizing technical flourish, Girl with a Pearl Earring is vivid enough for a film owing its existence to Johannes Vermeer. Inspired by the artist’s most famous painting, Tracy Chevalier researched and wrote a novel in eight months before giving birth. She sold film rights to producers Andy Paterson and Anand Tucker of London based Archer Street Films. Paterson’s wife, editor Olivia Hetreed, shared her husband’s love for the novel and adapted a screenplay. Director Mike Newell came and went when a cast failed to gel, but documentary filmmaker Peter Webber impressed Paterson with his grasp of fine art agreed to make his feature debut on the project. With book sales soaring, Pathe agreed to co-finance Girl with a Pearl Earring. Filming took place mostly at Delux Studios in Luxembourg on a budget of roughly £10 million.

Nominated for three Academy Awards — Best Art Direction (art director Ben Van Os, set decorator Cecile Heideman), Best Cinematography (Eduardo Serra) and Best Costume Design (Dien van Straalen) — Girl with a Pearl Earring lacks the historical depth and emotional resonance of The Remains of the Day, but like the Merchant Ivory classic, it does depict the clockwork of a great house with extraordinary panache. The characters are too wholesome and their relationships probably too respectful, with passions between artist and muse kept stored away in a cool, dry place. This could account for the film’s passive reception among critics and audiences, but Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth are superbly cast. Alexandre Desplat composed a lush and mysterious musical score while the lighting by Eduardo Serra conjures the wonder and precision of Vermeer’s work.

In 1665, the teenaged Griet (Scarlett Johannson) arrives in the canal city of Delft, Holland. The daughter of a broken down artist, Griet acquires work as a housemaid for a somewhat prosperous family of six. Given a tour of her new home and workplace by the punchy senior maid (Joanna Scanlan), Griet is shown the kitchen she’s to scrub and rooms she’s to clean, the exception being a studio in which the master of the house apparently isolates himself, painting. Several months pregnant, the temperamental mistress of the house Catharina (Essie Davis) does not suffer the new help lightly. Venturing to the market to buy meat and fish, Griet makes an impression of a butcher’s apprentice (Cillian Murphy) but seems drawn instead to the intensity of the master of the house, Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth).

Griet catches the eye of Vermeer’s patron, Pieter Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), who is invited to the house to celebrate the birth of Vermeer’s son and the unveiling of his latest commission, where the quiet artist is at a loss for the subject of his next painting. Griet demonstrates greater art appreciation than anyone else in the house and is welcomed into Vermeer’s studio to give her impression of his work. In the attic, he shows her how to mix colors. Vermeer’s mother-in-law Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt) manages the family’s purse strings and observes how threatened her daughter has become by Griet. Meanwhile, the salacious Van Ruijven offers Vermeer a commission to make a portrait of him and Griet, but the artist calls it off, preferring instead to immortalize Griet and a pair of his wife’s pearl earrings.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 16,939 users: 67% for Girl with a Pearl Earring

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 74 for Girl with a Pearl Earring

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Coming of age · Dreams and visions · Master and pupil · Unconventional romance

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