Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 2003 film directed by Peter Webber based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier inspired by the painting by Johannes Vermeer. The protagonist of the film, as well as the girl with a pearl earring, is a young (just nineteen) Scarlett Johansson. She’s accompanied by Colin Firth interpreting the famous Dutch painter of the 1600s who falls in love with her and decides to portray her in one of his paintings.
But let me briefly summarize the plot. Griet (Scarlett Johansson) comes from a humble family which is in serious economic difficulties after the father (Chris McHallem), a painter, went blind due to an accident. So she’s sent to work as a servant at the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Not that he’s doing much better, as he produces very few paintings every year and his patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson) has just decided to finance another painter.
Griet thus finds himself having to survive in a rather tense environment with the eager fellow servant Tanneke (Joanna Scanlan), the constant spite of one of the daughters of the painter (Anna Popplewell), and the jealousy of Johannes’s wife (Essie Davis) whose mother (Judy Parfitt) rules the house.
We’re not talking about a film with claims of historical accuracy. It’s just a romantic film, so there’s no point in going on with the plot to understand what happens. I’m the first to admit that romantic movies aren’t exactly my favorite genre, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good romantic movie. Unfortunately, this is not the case with The Girl with a Pearl Earring which gave me the impression of being fake, as fake as the set of the Amsterdam canal in front of Vermeer’s house. And why is that?
Because the script is so full of far-fetched things that several times while watching the film I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous tricks used to advance the plot and the love story between the painter and the young servant girl. How should I believe that in 1600’s Amsterdam, a famous painter could allow a young dishwasher to prepare his colors? And to have brilliant intuitions capable of improving his paintings? And what about the butcher’s son (a horribly underutilized Cillian Murphy) who speaks like a real poet?
I also found that the sets weren’t credible at all and didn’t convey any feeling of being in the Netherlands of the time: everything’s too clean, too bright… And then the cinematography! At some point there’s an outdoor scene (Griet and the butcher’s son walking along a tree-lined path) that I thought it was a dream, some kind of vision: such a burnt-white sky suggested a precise choice by the director to convey dreamlike sensations, who knows! But no, it was simply the hideous cinematography of a digitally shot film of the early 2000s. When I read that this movie had been nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography and best set decoration, I seriously wondered what else had come out that year…
Let me stop here. In my opinion there’s little to appreciate in Girl with a Pearl Earring. I can recommend it just for the curiosity of seeing the young Scarlett Johansson in one of her first main roles and little else, but otherwise I really don’t have anything to report. It doesn’t surprise me that the director hasn’t done anything else relevant in his career, at least so far. Ciao!