Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 2003 historical drama film directed by Peter Webber. The film is an adaptation of the 1999 novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier. Chevalier’s inspiration for the novel was a poster of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” painting.
Girl with a Pearl Earring (the novel), while based on a flimsy premise, at least attempts to inject social-political concerns into the narrative. Thus, there is relevant commentary on the rights of women and the class system of 17th century Netherlands. This is sadly missing in the film adaptation though.
The plot itself is problematic. Titular character Griet (Scarlett Johansson) is employed as a maid in the household of Dutch painter Vermeer (Colin Firth). Griet’s beauty makes her the target of the sexual advances of Vermeer’s patron Pieter van Ruijven (Tom Wilkerson). Van Ruijven (and Vermeer’s pragmatic mother-in-law) compels Vermeer to paint a portrait of Griet, to the displeasure of his wife.
Wafer thin, this plot is not able to withstand scrutiny whatsoever. As a protagonist Griet is absent of a significant want and therefore is not able to drive the story forward. She is, instead, a victim of circumstance and everything that happens to Griet is out of her hands. Vermeer is presented as inscrutable and the role is possibly one of Firth’s worst ever! Vemeer’s hysterical wife Catharina (Essie Davis) is just as bad – there seems to be no narrative foundation for the way she behaves.
The characters are all shallow – lacking depth – and thus it is impossible for a viewer to identify or emphatize with any of them. So, whatever emotional issues that Griet may go through just seems of little concern to anyone watching the film. This is a fundamental flaw that the movie never overcomes.
Period drama geeks might want to check out Girl with a Pearl Earring for the sets and the costumes and perhaps Johansson’s nuanced performance but leave any expectations for the story at the door.
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