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How hard is it to paint a pretty girl?


Girl with a Pearl Earing
(2003)

Peter Webber’s film proves to be an insightful account of the relationship between artist and muse, based on Tracy Chevalier’s novel. Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth,  all rakish locks) makes his living painting portraits for patrons who can afford it (as represented by Tom Wilkinson’s odious Van Ruijven), which just about pays the upkeep for his ever-expanding progeny. When Griet (Scarlett Johansson) comes to work in his house, he recognises a mind attuned to his artistry and he paints her at the expense of his domestic and financial relationships. 

We gain little insight into Vermeer, who is mostly kowtowed into resentful deference by his demanding spouse and financial obligaitons. As a result it is left to Johansson, who delivers a reactive performance of a quality that knocks the majority of what she has done in the subsequent near-decade into a hat. 

It’s probably fair to say that the strengths of the piece lie in the nuance of the execution rather than the script, and it’s a definite virtue that – despite a slender running time – the relationships and dynamics within the fractious household are allowed to breathe. Eduard Serra’s cinematography is gorgeous to behold, and it’s a shame that neither he nor Webber (Hannibal Rising?!) have gone on to greater things. 

***1/2

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