Updated 1/20/04 Cast  |  News  |  Story  |  Gallery  |  Reviews  |  Notes  |  Articles
Multimedia  |  Interviews

Variety (by Todd McCarthy, Sept 2, 2003)

"Girl With A Pearl Earring" is an intelligent, visually ravishing adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's best-selling novel about the Dutch master Vermeer and the model for one of his most famous paintings. With concision and well-chosen detail, Peter Webber's exceedingly accomplished first feature beautifully evokes the world the artist inhabited 340 years ago while deftly and discreetly delineating the personal intrigue within his teeming household. With its literary pedigree, artsy period backdrop, refined Euro air and wondrous central performance by emerging star Scarlett Johansson, who is receiving concurrent raves for her work in "Lost in Translation," pic has all the ingredients to become an international specialized circuit hit.

Little is known about Johannes Vermeer, who lived his entire life (1632-75) in the city of Delft, and certainly nothing of the young woman who modeled for the celebrated portrait he created in about 1665. This gave U.S.-born, British-based novelist Chevalier considerable latitude in fashioning her fictional story of a teenager whose destitute Calvinist parents place her as a maid in the home of the Catholic Vermeer, a meticulous, slow-working artist who also works as an art dealer and whose home overflows with innumerable children, an overwrought wife and a queen bee-like mother-in-law.

Even before Griet (Johansson) arrives to take up her duties, one is struck by the unusual nature of the girl. Porcelain-skinned, with largish nose and lips and wide-set eyes, she seems keenly observant and self-possessed, with an intelligence and integrity that trump her illiteracy and low station. The prevailing hallmark of Johansson's superb performance, which could be considered worthy of great silent film acting, is that her Griet is always holding something in reserve, an innate intelligence and sense of mystery that eventually intrigue Vermeer and severely threaten the latter's wife.

Courtesy of Ben van Os' vibrant production design, which is intersected by canals and is populated as much with livestock as it is with humanity, the thriving mercantilist Holland of the time jumps to life as Griet arrives for work. Under the thumb of fleshy housekeeper Tanneke (Joanna Scanlan) and watched with close suspicion by Vermeer's neurotic wife Catharina (Essie Davis) and the latter's stern mother Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt), Griet develops a fascination with the one room in the cramped house that is off-limits to the family in general, Vermeer's spare, light-drenched studio.

While fulfilling active public and family roles, Vermeer (Colin Firth) puts his art first, often seeming remote and insisting upon privacy to work at his own deliberate pace despite domestic demands and pressure from his wealthy patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson). Soon, however, he notices a nascent sensitivity in Griet to such matters as light, paint materials and composition, which earns her access to the privileged studio; before long, the artist shows her his new acquisition, a camera obscura, which he admits helps him with his work, and invites her to help him grind and mix his paints.

In such a tight household, Griet's activities do not go unnoticed, and her position there is soon tenuous. The object of mean pranks by one of the painter's daughters, Griet is politely courted by the nearby butcher's son (the impossibly handsome Cillian Murphy, who looks like he just stepped out of a Zeffirelli film), just as she is lusted after by the boorish Van Ruijven, who makes a secret deal with Vermeer that looks to bode ill for Griet. 

Amidst all these swirling emotions and intrigues, a highly delicate central drama emerges: While producing a group picture for Van Ruijven, Vermeer embarks upon the secret, simultaneous project, a portrait of Griet. Posing for him in a manner that almost seems illicit, the film builds to sensual highlights that consist of a resistant Griet finally consenting to removing her white cap to reveal her resplendent hair, and Vermeer piercing her ear so she can wear the earring he insists is necessary to complete the painting.

When Catharina discovers that the servant girl has been wearing her earrings and demands to see the picture, she hysterically calls it obscene and tries to rip it to shreds. Griet's fate hangs in the balance, but her capacity for survival proves resilient in a mixed-mood conclusion that is in proportion to the careful balance achieved throughout the picture.

Script by Olivia Hetreed jettisons the book's first-person p.o.v., probably wisely in that the approach preserves Griet's mysteriousness, but is quite faithful in tone and spirit. A former editor and documaker, Webber maintains an admirably restrained hold on the material while still keeping the action lively and intriguing. Drama tips into too-overt melodrama on a couple of occasions, however, notably in Van Ruijven's one-dimensional lechery and Catharina's  overweening jealousy.

Arching over everything is the film's look, which in cinematographer Eduardo Serra's exceptionally skilled hands is that of a Vermeer painting from beginning to end. The jumbled textures and colors of the home's family quarters are set off by the austere loveliness of the artist's soft-hued studio, which was the setting of so many of his works. Hugely evocative, the studied approach of approximating the Vermeer look, with light slanting in from the side, never feels stilted or fussy, and an emotionally climactic zoom in on Griet striking her pose for the picture, earring finally in place, is breathtaking.

While physically and dramatically credible, Firth is reserved as the guarded artist. Davis as his wife conveys the brittleness of a woman living permanently near the breaking point, and Parfitt has her moments as the matriarch who quietly sympathizes with her son-in-law more than with her daughter.

In a film of outstanding craft contributions, noteworthy are Dien van Straalen's costumes and, particularly, Alexandre Desplat's supple, beautifully nuanced score.

Shadows on the Wall (by Rich Cline, Sept 3, 2003) - 3½ of 5 stars

The plot is fairly contrived and melodramatic, like a pulp romance novel with lots of heaving bosoms and barely repressed desires....Every element is here, and yet the story keeps us gripped due to its refusal to give into standard Hollywood plot structures. Meanwhile, the acting is far above average, with Johansson delivering yet another strikingly solid performance....Firth, Wilkinson and Murphy add life to their rather underwritten roles, while the rest of the women are efficient stereotypes swirling around Griet. The production design is absolutely beautiful—each frame looks like a 17th century Dutch masterpiece!
And Webber's direction is artfully light-handed; several scenes take our breath away with their raw beauty, often combined with a strong emotional resonance. (review here)

Moviehole (by Paul Fischer, Sept 8, 2003)

Perhaps not the ideal film to sit through having had less than two hours sleep, Girl is a leisurely paced but seductive period piece, glorious on the eye, and a dazzling in its subtle tone...Firth is equally magnificent as the tortured painter. Breathtaking to look at, Girl with Pearl Earring is a fascinating and remarkable tale, beautifully crafted by first-timer Peter Webber. (report here)

Screendaily (by Allan Hunter, Sept 9, 2003)

Crafted with all the delicate judgement and fine brushstrokes of an Old Master, Girl With A Pearl Earring is an exquisitely understated period drama rich in atmosphere and emotion.

A faithful adaptation of the Tracey Chevalier best-seller, this marks an auspicious feature debut from director Peter Webber that should find favour with discerning, upscale audiences all around the world. The strength of critical support and the extent of interest in the spellbinding central performance of
rising star Scarlet Johansson will determine exactly how far the film can travel. Set in the Delft of 17th century Holland, Girl With A Pearl Earring tells of a young servant girl Griet (Johansson) who is sent to work in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer (Firth).

It is a household dominated by the influence of Vermeer's imperious, penny pinching mother Maria (Parfitt) and his jealous wife Catharina (Davis). The artist's studio is hallowed ground in which only the few can tread. Griet is ordered to clean it. Her sensitivity to his work wins his trust and eventually
inspires a bond between them that transcends all the barriers of class and circumstance that might otherwise have separated them.

Unfolding with an economy and subtlety that is hard to fault, Girl With A Pearl Earring looks an absolute treat. Vermeer's paintings come to life in the dappled light of wintry landscapes and the dusty darkness of candle lit interiors. Frozen clothes on a washing line, gleaming, polished cutlery at a dinner table and the dedicated preparation of vegetables and fowl for a special meal are just some of the detail that combine to create a glowing, utterly convincing picture of a long ago world.

The film's strength lies in a mesmerising recreation of the period that is allied to emotions that are timeless. An artist torn between his dutiful wife and a servant girl with a much more profound understanding of his art, Vermeer becomes an entirely human figure even as we also learn of his painstaking technique and a life spent at the constant mercy of a rich patron.

Griet may be a servant girl with a handsome offer of marriage from butcher's son Peter (Murphy) but it is entirely understandable that she should feel the frustration of wanting more once Vermeer allows her to see the colours of the world through his eyes.

Distinguished by glorious cinematography and production design, this is a film that deals in the implicit rather than the explicit. Meaning is found in lingering glances and painful intimacy rather than bold statements or flamboyant drama. In this respect, Scarlet Johansson's central performance is a revelation. As luminous as pale moonlight, she has the ability to let her features become a map of her character's emotions, registering wide-eyed wonder, shame, enchantment or scalding injustice with little more than a hint of a smile or a modest look. The performance marks her out as a young actress with the
promise of greatness in her future and is sure to win the film the attention it deserves.

The Hollywood Reporter (by Kirk Honeycutt, Sept 9, 2003)

Boasting inspired performances by Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson..."Girl" is not likely to move beyond the art house, but the film does succeed where few others have in penetrating the life of a painter and the source of his art.

Johansson's brave and intelligent innocence is nicely balanced by Firth's worldly, compassionate admiration of his painting's subject. In another time and place, these two would be lovers. But here, distinctions in class, religion and education make this impossible; here, their passion remains cerebral and platonic, though sexual tensions abound.

High marks belong to the film's entire crew, including Alexandre Desplat's elegant score and Dien van Straalen's costumes modeled after Vermeer's work. (full review)

Reelviews (by James Berardinelli, Sept 12, 2003)

Girl with a Pearl Earring is the first feature for director Peter Webber, and what a debut it is! Most freshman filmmakers don't come close to Webber's level of accomplishment, and (not to take anything away from Webber) some of the credit must certainly be parceled out to the cast and the cinematographer, Eduardo Serra. Girl with a Pearl Earring offers sumptous visuals and compelling drama effectively intermingled in a pleasing, satisfying production. The director has crafted the film with great care, composing each frame like a painting with respect to color, light, camera placement, and texture. Girl with a Pearl Earring could be silent and it would still be an amazing achievement. Indeed, the dialogue is sparse, which forces the performers to do most of their acting with expressions and body language....

The sexual chemistry between Griet and Vermeer is wonderfully understated, but unmistakble. The most erotic moment of the film comes when Vermeer steals a glance at Griet with her hair unbound. It's every bit as sensual as if he had seen her naked.

Colin Firth gives us a brooding, dour Vermeer who only shows passion while painting (imagine Mr. Darcy with long hair)....We have come to anticipate top-notch acting in British productions, and our expectations are not disappointed here. Girl with the Pearl Earring is one of those films that does many things right, and that places it among the year's best period pieces. It's more than a cut above the usual BBC costume drama. (full review here)

Entertainment Weekly (by Owen Gleiberman) Rating: B+ 

'PEARL' OF A GIRL Johanssen's sublime performance is gives us Scarlett fever 

The Mona Lisa's famous smile—a woman thinking about herself smiling—may be the first appearance in art of modern ambivalence. The works of Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch genius of light, have a similar out-of-time quality. They seem to leap forward, from the middle of the 1600s, to a photographic embrace of the world as a voluptuous nexus of color and shadow.

In Girl With a Pearl Earring, Colin Firth, in long, flowing musketeer locks that bring out an erotic dynamism he hasn't shown before, plays Vermeer quietly, with the intensity of the possessed, as if he were looking through people instead of at them. The movie, adapted from Tracy Chevalier's 1999 novel and directed by Peter Webber, is the story of how Vermeer created a single painting, the rapturous ''Girl With a Pearl Earring,'' and it brings off something that few dramas about artists do. It gets you to see the world through new—which is to say, old—eyes. 

Scarlett Johansson is Griet, the 17-year-old maid who comes to live in the noisy, bourgeois, economically fractious Vermeer household, only to become the artist's secret muse. Johansson, with a white cap covering her hair, appears to be nothing but milky skin, overripe lips, and shy, all-seeing orbs: an image of uninterrupted sensuality. The actress gives a nearly silent performance, yet the interplay on her face of fear, ignorance, curiosity, and sex is intensely dramatic. Griet's connection to Vermeer hardly needs to be consummated. Everyone can see it, notably his wife (Essie Davis), who, for all her pettiness, might
be the maid's aging mirror image. The movie's soap opera of jealousy and forbidden obsession is standard middlebrow fare, yet when Griet finally poses for that painting, the entire scenario is embedded in her one look, reaching out to us, as if from across the centuries.

Village Voice (by J. Hoberman, Dec 10, 2003)

Delft is impressively evoked, and Griet, assumed by her betters to live in a world beneath intelligence, is a perfect "everyday" subject. Vermeer (Colin Firth) is portrayed as taciturn and glowering. The artist might well brood...(Quiet as Girl With a Pearl Earring is, the moment when Vermeer spies Griet's cascade of auburn hair makes for a superbly Muslim moment.)  Girl With a Pearl Earring cannot help but sensitize the viewer to its own use of light and color. It's a daring ploy with unavoidably mixed results... (full review)

New York Times (by Elvis Mitchell, Dec 12, 2003)

The care that has gone into making "Earring," a dexterous and absorbing visual re-creation of the lighting and the look that Vermeer achieved in his work, is a tribute to the director Peter Webber's own group of artisans, the cinematographer Eduardo Serra and the production designer Ben van Os. The gorgeous score, by Alexandre Desplat, brushes in a haunted gloom that gives the picture life where none seems to exist. This is the kind of film that would prompt the movie industry trade papers to say "technical credits above par."

[Griet] is far more intrigued by Vermeer, and based on Colin Firth's interpretation it is easy to see why. He plays Vermeer as a taciturn eccentric whose dark eyes house terror, anger and finally appreciation. He drinks in Griet's understanding of his art. A scene in which he demonstrates the workings of a camera obscura to her—and their transfixed faces are bathed in its buttery light—has real emotional power; it is like watching a pair of kids trading secrets under a sheet. And when the painter does talk, he speaks faster and with greater passion than anyone else; words boil out of him. (full review)

New York Daily News (by Jami Bernard, Dec 12, 2003) 3 stars

Anyone familiar with the famous work of the title will see that painting taking shape every time Vermeer (Colin Firth) peers in a darkly romantic way at the shy, sensitive housemaid. "Girl With a Pearl Earring" does an uncommonly good job of summoning all that goes into a masterpiece—erotic tension, financial considerations, even the sensual, elaborate grinding and mixing of paint colors as per 17th-century requirements. Also true to the spirit of a still life, this is a slow, quiet movie, where emotions are writ large (but silently) on the canvas of the face—household members fairly ooze jealousy and suspicion as Griet becomes the master's favorite. (full review)

USA Today (by Claudia Puig, Dec 12, 2003)

It's a measure of the mesmerizing power of Girl With a Pearl Earring and the flawless performances of Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson that audiences feel as if they are spying on a moment of artistic inspiration when painter Vermeer creates the title work.

Firth plays the artist, about whom little is known historically, with a blend of smoldering intensity and quiet understatement.

Firth's quietly contained but emotionally tortured performance should erase any lingering memories of his lackluster part in Love Actually and put us more in mind of his complex charms from Pride and Prejudice.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a rich gem expertly told in a surprisingly scant 95 minutes. The film's deliberate pacing beautifully complements the nuances of a story about the complexity of creativity and the part it plays as a powerful outlet for repressed emotions. (full review)

New York Post (by Jonathan Foreman, Dec 12, 2003) 2-1/2 stars

Peter Webber's film about a servant girl who inspires a famous portrait by 17th-century master Johannes Vermeer is laughably predictable in its plotting, crude in its symbolism, ploddingly paced and often rendered almost comical by the heavy-breathing overacting of Johansson's supporting cast. 

It's all but impossible to avoid romantic cliché in films about great artists, and from the moment you first see Colin Firth as Vermeer, with wild, greasy hair and a perpetual moody glower you're in all too familiar territory.

It would be hard to overpraise Johansson...Likewise Webber and his cinematographer Eduardo Serra...This kind of intelligence makes it all the more of a shame that Colin Firth, Wilkinson, Murphy and Judy Parfitt seem to be working in a different film—a kitschy, campy historical melodrama—or on instructions from a different director than the one guiding Johansson. (full review)

Chicago Sun-Times (by Roger Ebert, Dec 26, 2003) 4 stars

'Girl With a Pearl Earring" is a quiet movie, shaken from time to time by ripples of emotional turbulence far beneath the surface. It is about things not said, opportunities not taken, potentials not realized, lips unkissed. All of these elements are guessed at by the filmmakers...Tracy Chevalier's novel speculating about the painting has now been filmed by Peter Webber, who casts Scarlett Johansson as the girl and Colin Firth as Vermeer. I can think of many ways the film could have gone wrong, but it goes right, because it doesn't cook up melodrama and romantic intrigue but tells a story that's content with its simplicity. The painting is contemplative, reflective, subdued, and the film must be, too: We don't want lurid revelations breaking into its mood. (full review)

Chicago Tribune (by Michael Wilmington, Dec 26, 2003) 3-1/2 stars)

"Girl with a Pearl Earring," a movie about Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and the creation of one of his masterpieces, is a work of resplendent visual beauty, a film in which every frame pays tribute to Vermeer's genius and the power of art to transcend the world around us. But it's also a sad study of how society can entrap artists and lovers, an absorbing romantic drama full of acute psychological detail and social nuance.

The movie constantly juxtaposes Vermeeresque images, bathed in magical light, and the mundane everyday routines they reveal. As Griet quietly goes about her chores, we sense her resentment, awe and wonder, and when the sad-eyed, slightly disheveled Vermeer (Colin Firth) spots her for the first time, something ignites between them. Is it love, sexual desire or simply the artist's recognition of a face suitable for framing? (full review)

San Francisco Chronicle (by Ruthe Stein, Dec 26, 2003)

Vermeer doesn't appear until a third of the way through, bursting into his noisy household in Delft (his wife was perennially pregnant, which may have accounted for her foul moods) and anxiously searching for a modicum of quiet. Since the artist left no searing self-portraits, Colin Firth in a pageboy has an easier time convincing us he's Vermeer than Kirk Douglas did when he took on van Gogh. Painstakingly slathering paint on canvas, Firth displays the intensity of a great artist.

Director Peter Webber is at his best in the scene of Griet posing. It's tightly woven (displaying Webber's roots as a film editor), as the camera moves back and forth from Vermeer assessing his model to her trying to comprehend his expectations. Nothing overtly sexual happens, but incendiary looks pass between them. (full review)

Houston Chronicle (by Eric Harrison, Jan 8, 2004) B

In the new movie...painting seems the most erotic act imaginable. At the very least, it is an elaborate form of foreplay; it may be a straight-out surrogate for sex. Befitting a film set in the world of art, Girl With a Pearl Earring is spectacularly beautiful, filled with painterly compositions, and cinematographer Eduardo Serra makes impressive use of light. Nearly every shot is suitable for framing. (full review)

Boston Globe (by Ty Burr, Jan 9, 2004) 3 stars

The real drama of the film lies in the relationship between maid and master, and it moves with the pace of brushstrokes cautiously applied. Dancing on the edge of dullness, ''Girl'' is continually saved by the look of things: the hush of an atelier in midafternoon, dust-motes swirling in a sunbeam, pigment blooming under mortar and pestle. Impatience is forestalled, time and again, by rapture.

It doesn't help that the film's heroine is a passive object throughout...And it certainly doesn't help that Firth makes an altogether too fussy Vermeer. I understand that there are palpitating legions of fans who will disagree, and I'm not taking issue with the man's talent; it's there and it's real, but it never feels right for this movie. You need a man who can brood with the best of them—a young Jeremy Irons, say—but the best Firth can muster is an irritable snit. (full review)

Washington Post (by Ann Hornaday, Jan 8, 2004)

From its opening shot of a pair of hands methodically slicing gemlike pieces of vegetables, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" never strays from its chief mission: to create beautiful, painterly images with every single frame. This it does, with a lustrous production design and attention to detail that allow viewers to sink voluptuously in its imagined world. But the movie's strengths also prove to be its weaknesses, as visual rapture continually trumps narrative drive. (full review)

Washington Post (by Deeson Thomson, Jan 9, 2004)

If the scope of the film feels small, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" fills that scope to bursting with subtle glory. It takes things as far as they can—and should—go. (full review)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (by William Arnold, Jan 9, 2004)

The story is trivial. Most of it is upstairs-downstairs soap opera, which seems to exist less for its narrative drama than for its backgrounds—giving the filmmakers an excuse to elaborately stage some of those domestic tasks that Vermeer loved to paint. The performances are constrained to the point of strangulation: Firth's Vermeer is one-note dour, and Johansson...exudes little of the magic that has made it second only to the "Mona Lisa" as a vision of enigmatic coquettishness.

But the movie still is wonderfully engrossing and alive. Its sets are a gallery of sumptuous still lifes, and every shot could have been set up by the master himself: radiant with light, vibrant with color, composed with an almost hypnotic symmetry and equilibrium. There are certain rare movies that speak to us solely through the power and initiative of their visuals. This is one of them, and if you're receptive to this kind of movie, and know Vermeer's work, it's an unusually satisfying, even enriching experience. (full review)

Seattle Times (by Moira Macdonald, Jan 9, 2004) 3-1/2 stars

A quiet film so beautifully lit that it seems to shimmer, Peter Webber's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is both lovely to look at and intriguing to hold in the mind. Hidden within a seemingly sedate 17th-century plot is an elegant study of two kinds of servitude, that between master and servant, and that between artist and patron. Ultimately the two bonds don't look so very different, though one is in a rather more gilded cage.

Firth—who's rock-star handsome here, with flowing dark hair and needle-sharp eyes—makes a startling on-screen contrast to Johansson, a wraith shrouded in a nunlike cap and veil. You can see that this man is frustrated by everyone around him: by his wife (who sobs "Why can't you paint me?"), by his gimlet- eyed mother-in-law, by the demands of his patron Van Ruijven, who leers at Griet and suggests Vermeer paint her. It's an offer that the artist can't refuse; he's as indentured as she is. (full review)

Boston Herald (by James Verniere, Jan 9, 2004) 3-1/2 stars)

Ravishing to the eye, Girl With a Pearl Earring is a coming-of-age tale full of sensuous, painterly detail... at its heart a Freudian adolescent fantasy about the transference of a young woman's sexual longing from an unattainable object—the older, married, paternal figure—to a more attainable one—the young, single male. Notably for the armchair Freudians in the audience, Griet's father is a blind former tile maker, a type of ruined Vermeer. The film works so well on this Freudian level that its weak social context and lack of a clear narrative line are not fatal. And when you take into consideration the enchanting, Vermeer-inspired visuals of cinematographer Eduardo Serra and production designer Ben Van Os, you have an attractive package indeed, especially from a first-time director—Peter Webber.

Girl With a Pearl Earring' is both an introduction to sex and an introduction to art, which may explain why the novel it is based on has sold 2 million copies thus far. (full review)

Sacramento Bee (by Joe Baltke, Jan 9, 2004) 3-1/2 stars

Watching this film is akin to looking over the painter's shoulder and experiencing firsthand how one of his greatest achievements was created....Vermeer (played by Colin Firth, at long last shedding his matinee-idol pretensions) seems surly... (full review)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (by Eleanor Ringel Gillespie) B-

Watching "Girl With a Pearl Earring" is like watching paint dry. It's meant to be.  Paint—and how it interacts with light—is the essence of this visually exquisite, emotionally stunted film. Director Peter Webber and his production team intend to put us inside a Vermeer painting. It's a striking experience of light, color and composition. But it's also somewhat stifling.

Firth brings the requisite semi-banked fire to his role as the brooding artist whose ardor for his work is often heedless of the feelings of those around him. As always, the actor does the dashing thing flawlessly. (full review)

Financial Times (by Nigel Andrews, Jan 14, 2004)

Press-show colleagues admired the respectful, Vermeeresque lighting. But reverend intentions and a cosmetic fidelity are not at issue. Only excessive respect, indeed, could produce a film at once so droopy and so loopy, one that configures its characters in a circle of hackneyed stereotypes around a no less hackneyed vision of the genius as crypto-Byronic matinee idol. Colin Firth's Vermeer is a sexy, surly, storm-browed introvert, with a caustic aside or winning scowl for every occasion. Give him a wet
blouse and he'd be Delft's Mr Darcy. (full review)

The Times (by James Christopher, Jan 14, 2004)  4 stars

Peter Webber’s lavish melodrama, Girl with a Pearl Earring, pummels the senses with a Brian Sewell sense of its own painterly importance. It is quite brilliantly lit and dressed. Ducks are smothered in lard, and floorboards creak. But the master-and-servant romance has the erotic charge of a five-watt bulb.

Set in Delft in 1665, the film picklocks the erotic mystery behind one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings. A humble peasant, Griet (Scarlett Johansson), is employed by the artist’s wife to launder sheets and scrub his studio. She is Cinderella in a house full of malevolent creeps and bitchy servants. The family is stony broke, and Colin Firth’s depressed, tetchy artist is blocked. But something about the 17-year-old waif with eyes as large as marbles inspires Vermeer to pick up his brush.

Without at first knowing, or indeed desiring it, the vulnerable char becomes his inspiration and muse. I doubt there has been a more beautiful period romance that never happens. Firth smoulders like a damp rag. Johansson is the shapely marvel: she barely speaks a word, yet the entire drama is quietly frozen on her face. The rest is as Dutch as Dickens.

Evening Standard (by Will Self, Jan 15, 2004)

Peter Webber's debut feature is a languid affair, as studiedly brown as the Vermeer paintings that it builds on for its painstakingly detailed portrait of life in 17th century Delft. 

Vermeer—as depicted by Colin Firth—is no turbulent Impressionist, or polymorphously perverse Renaissance genius, but a rather weak, tongue-tied man, whose intense devotion to his work masks a failure to engage with his life. In the rolling sensuality of a world in which masters and servants sleep cheek-by-jowl, and the wet nurse is a human equivalent of a Milton steriliser full of babies' bottles, Vermeer is a man who manages to be conspicuously absent even when he is present

If all of the above makes Girl with a Pearl Earring sound unappealing, then it shouldn't...it is a mood piece; and I suspect that whether you find it to be more or less than the sum of its parts will depend on how you are feeling when the lights go down, rather than up. 

Personally, I revelled in the exactitude of the period detail...It is good to see the full resources of contemporary film-making harnessed in the surface of historical verisimilitude on this small scale, instead of their usual epic expenditure. Of course, it is a tad ironic to hail as cinematic art a production in which the plot resolution is a single still image, but it isn't one that it's necessary to dwell on. (full review)

Empire ( by Natasha Aitken, Jan 16, 2004) 4 of 5 stars

Director Webber sticks firmly to the book and, in doing so, has produced a captivating film whose stunning use of set design and colour recreates Vermeer’s sense of space and reality in almost every shot. Firth’s Vermeer is distant and untouchable, making his attraction to Griet all the more powerful. Very good—one of the rare book adaptations that actually benefits from a visual makeover. (full review)

Channel 4

Intelligent adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's bestselling novel which is rich in atmosphere and gorgeous to look at...A deeply understated and intelligent film...

Furnished with minimal dialogue, Firth, and especially Johansson, create subtle performances out of gesture and restraint, where the slightest glance can be loaded with emotional weight.

Verdict: Arty but accessible, Girl With A Pearl Earring pays tribute to its subject matter with some of the most beautiful visuals on screen this year. High on atmosphere and low on action, its restrained emotions go against Hollywood conventions, creating a rich and rewarding film. (full review)

The Guardian (by Peter Bradshaw, Jan 16, 2004) 4 of 5 stars

[T]his movie...is a stunningly designed piece of work, with hauntingly beautiful cinematography from Eduardo Serra of the sort that often gets called "painterly" and here really deserves it. This film is a tremendously intelligent and detailed homage.

Colin Firth, as Vermeer, must reconcile the domestic calm of the painter's family life with the life-force romantic-artist image that the director has evidently decided should be his look. He's the sort of long- haired, moody, intense-eyed guy who looks like he should be roistering around town and painting can-can dancers, but actually stays in en famille, reading and drinking contemplative mugs of beer while small children scramble on and off his lap, doing everything but watching television.

Webber gives a long, long close-up on Johansson's face as she models for that famous portrait study and the effect really is swooningly beautiful, though a little coercive—as if we were being ordered to swoon. Often, Firth and Johansson will gaze at each other, silent, stricken, he out of desire, she out of submissive deference, but it may be just that a sense that any dialogue at all is too crude an intrusion into this visual splendour. Girl With a Pearl Earring at times surrounds itself with an art-gallery hush, but it is just so ambitious, and intriguing, and beautiful, you will find yourself immobile in front of its canvas, drinking in the details. (full review)

Independent (by Charlotte O'Sullivan, Jan 16, 2004)

Johansson looks good enough to eat, but she and Firth's simmering shenanigans make little impression. Vermeer's great gift as an artist was to imbue ordinary life with a sense of mystery. Alas poor Webber.
The immaculate consummation witnessed here idles in a middlebrow limbo, neither earthy nor divine. (full review)

Toronto Star (by Peter Howell, Jan 16, 2004) 3 stars

The picture is simply ravishing, but at times it falls prey to its own contemplations....Less successful is the casting of Colin Firth as Vermeer. The 24-year age gap between Firth and Johansson isn't the problem—she is old beyond her years—but the romantic involvement so essential to the film's suggested intrigues just isn't there. Firth doesn't even show up until a good 20 minutes into the film, and when he does he's so self-absorbed, he barely notices her. The stately pace continues, with eros implied, but not shown. Whatever lustful urges were brought out of Vermeer by his subject for Girl With A Pearl Earring remain as tantalizingly obscure as always. And perhaps that's the way it should be, since all great art is improved by mystery. (full review)

Denver Post (by Lisa Kennedy, Jan 16, 2004) 3 stars

When film takes on painting, it's often with a heady mix of the competitive and the celebratory. Director Peter Webber's first theatrical feature gets the balance just right.

Firth makes a dour Vermeer. By today's standards, he would be judged passive-aggressive. He's good at setting the household against itself. He yells at his child for quiet but encourages Griet's enthusiasms. And you'd have to be a blinkered romantic to not recognize the nasty selfishness in the moment when Vermeer asks Griet a question about light and his wife's earring in front of Catharina.

To earn its props, a period film must resonate in our time. A movie about art doubles that demand. Webber has delivered the goods and then some. (full review)

National Post (by Chris Knight, Jan 16, 2004) 3-1/2 stars

It's a rare work of art that makes a journey from one medium to another unscathed. Johannes Vermeer's 1665 painting Girl With a Pearl Earring has made it twice.

Firth is the go-to actor when roles demand smouldering, which he does like nobody's business—even tightly buttoned into a waistcoat, emotionally he is open-shirted and damp. He can spend a six-minute scene in total silence, constantly about to speak. (full review)

Detroit Free Press (by Terry Lawson, Jan 16, 2004) 3 stars

Beautifully lit, designed and photographed, it is, like much of the Dutch master's work, more to be admired than emotionally embraced.

As the repressed Catholic Vermeer, Firth does a lot of low-temperature smoldering, while Johansson's Griet, a Calvinist whose stunted sexuality is poked out of slumber by the sensuality in Vermeer's art, is able to sublimate her attraction to a more suitable subject, a handsome butcher boy.This might be all too pent-up to abide were it not for the skill with which director Peter Webber and his crew have re-created the painter's vaunted technique in the service of exploring how life is turned into art. (full review)

San Diego Union-Tribune (by David Elliott, Jan 16, 2004) 3-1/2 stars

Colin Firth, as Vermeer, at first seems recessively English. Sure, Vermeer was a quiet, lab-of-art master who left behind a small body of profoundly posed work. Nobody painted pearls better, or made a whole painting into more of a pearl. But he must have had force of personality to go his singular way, not aping Rubens or Rembrandt, painting with finicky purity the mostly interior views in his home of a few people and immaculate furnishings, in the cool window light that became his signature.

Firth indicates that force, though his Vermeer is sly and careful around his insecure (because not greatly loved) and materialistic wife (Essie Davis), and her fierce hawk of a mother. And Griet, though no daisy, is initially scared of them all. (full review)

St Louis Post-Dispatch (by Calvin Wilson, Jan 16, 2004) 4 stars

It's a film of subtle beauty, devoid of melodrama and directed with painterly grace. Webber immerses the moviegoer in the world of the film with mesmerizing immediacy. It's as if we're looking over Griet's shoulder as she makes her way through the day, from her lowly chores to her higher calling.

Equally impressive is Firth, who brings a quiet dignity to Vermeer while also hinting at the unruly impulses that find expression in his art. His interpretation of the painter is all the more intriguing for its remoteness and restraint. Such an approach to the character only lends heightened poignancy to Vermeer's unspoken desire for Griet—who, we may reasonably assume, harbors similar feelings for the painter. 

Webber and Hetreed might have taken a safer road, paved with cheap sentiment. Instead, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" respects your intelligence while engaging your emotions. In the art world, there's a word for such a work: masterpiece. (full review)

The Daily Telegraph (by Sukhdev Sandhu, Jan 16, 2004)

A fictional biography of the mysterious subject of Vermeer's greatest painting, it seems to have been made expressly for the purpose of showcasing the talents of this farouche and supremely fascinating young actress....she attracts the attention of Vermeer (a remote-seeming but competent Colin Firth), much to the annoyance of his wife (Joanna Scanlan) and his malicious daughter (Alakina Mann).

Girl With a Pearl Earring is intelligent, ably acted and wonderful to look at. But it's also too becalmed and aloof in tone to truly captivate. Still lives are one thing; inert ones are a different matter. (full review)

The Observer (by Philip French, Jan 18, 2004)

This film, then, is about art and exploitation and how a young woman attempts to resist a system designed to make her hopelessly vulnerable....Though illiterate, she's strong-willed and intelligent. Vermeer, who appropriately remains a quiet, mysterious man, recognises her natural understanding of art and a sensitivity superior to that of his petulant wife and domineering mother-in-law. She becomes involved in mixing his paints and in the shaping of his work...

Girl With a Pearl Earring is quiet, intelligent and well-acted. Olivia Hetreed's dialogue is plain and inoffensive in an old-fashioned schools-broadcasting manner. What most people will be impressed by, and carry away in their mind's eye, is the film's appearance. (full review)

Please do not upload any images to your
own website, club, group or community's
photo album. Thank you.
Return to Main
Click on boots to contact me