Girl With A Pearl Earring is a superior British costume drama that expertly mixes art history with romantic fiction. Peter Webber's directorial debut subtly portrays the relationship between Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) and his enigmatic subject (Scarlett Johansson). Adapted from the bestselling novel by Tracy Chevalier and inspired by the painting of the same name, this film doesn't just appeal to budding Vermeers but anyone who likes serious, intelligent drama and gentle erotic tension.
In mid-17th century Delft, Holland, 17-year-old Griet (Lost In Translation's Johansson) is forced into servanthood when her father suffers an accident and is unable to work. She's taken on in Vermeer's household and gives everyone the hump - particularly the artist's permanently pregnant wife (Essie Davis) and eldest daughter (Alakina Mann) - when she starts forging an understanding with her mysterious master.
"POUTING LESSONS FROM POSH HERSELF"
Colin (Love Actually) Firth battles bravely to stop his Iron Maiden-style wig from expressing more than he does, while Scarlett Johansson has been taking pouting lessons from Posh herself. That said, both leads are excellent, doing a grand job of expressing feelings and emotions without the use of much dialogue, and the picture is the better for it. The film is occasionally clumsy on the erotic overtones (a sledgehammer would have been as subtle as the twitching hands scene), but ultimately the story's power stems from its restraint.
It's a shame that Tom Wilkinson - as Vermeer's sleazy patron Van Ruijven - is underused, peering occasionally around corners to leer at maids like a salivating wolf. But the film is beautifully shot, each scene resembling a mini-portrait in itself. Not a masterpiece, then, but well worth a viewing.