Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Yesterday I watched "Girl With A Pearl Earring" starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson. What a wonderful movie although I am sure many people would consider it slow in pace. However it effortlessly captured the atmosphere of 17th Century Delft and the minutiae of daily life in a Dutch bourgeois household.

Based on a novel by Tracy Chevalier the story concentrates on Griete, a young illiterate servant girl who goes to work for the Vermeer household when her family falls on hard times. Her daily life is full of drudgery and sadness but the film also captures the unhappiness of Vermeer's wife who although fashionably attired and spoilt is also condemned to a life of endless pregnancies (the couple had 12 surviving children) while treated like a mindless doll by her husband. Ruling over the household is Vermeer's mother in law whose meanness probably covers an underlying terror of debt and penury. In the film she is portrayed as someone who sees Vermeer as their chief source of income, frustrated by his slow output (he only painted 36 works in his lifetime) while flattering his leaguers patron in order to gain more commissions.

The main story concentrates on Vermeer's friendship with the servant girl Griete. At first she is permitted to clean his studio, then to watch him painting before finally being taught to mix his paints. When she captures the fancy of Vermeer's patron she become a model in one of his group paintings before he paints his famous portrait "Girl With A Pearl Earring". This favouritism (plus the intimate nature of the portrait) leads to her dismissal from the house as Vermeer's wife is eventually consumed with jealousy at the closeness of their relationship.

The acting in the film is superb. The sexual frission of the main protagonists is palpable throughout without anyone undressing. It is interesting to consider who was the real Girl With A Pearl Earring. Certainly the movie will kindle interest in Vermeer's work. As for me I'm going to read the novel it was based on.

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