• The cast of ‘The Miniaturist’. (SBS)Source: SBS
Every woman is the architect of her own fortune…
Beth Hadfield

21 Jun 2019 - 10:20 AM  UPDATED 2 Aug 2019 - 11:46 AM

The so-called ‘golden age’ of Amsterdam in 1686 is a curious and discomforting mix of excess and fanatical religious devotion, when Petronella Brandt (Anya Taylor-Joy) arrives to join her husband, successful merchant Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell), and start her new life.

Arriving at her new home, Nella is met by Johannes’ cold and unwelcoming sister, Marin (Romola Garai), with her husband nowhere to be found. Nella soon has the unpleasant realisation that her married life won’t be exactly what she’d hoped for. When Johannes eventually appears, he’s kind, yet distant, and the dark rooms of their home pulse with tension and secrets. 

Upon showing Nella her bedroom, Marin pronounces, “This used to be my room, but it had the better view, so he gave it to you.” Nella insists Marin reclaim her room. “You misunderstand,” says Marin. “The view is of you. Amsterdam must see that Johannes Brandt has a new wife.”

Shortly after his new bride arrives, Johannes presents Nella with a wedding gift: an expensive and ornate cabinet dollhouse that’s an exact replica of their Amsterdam home.

To furnish the rooms of her dollhouse, Nella engages the services of a mysterious miniaturist. Upon opening her first order from the miniaturist, Nella discovers a note, bearing the phrase, ‘Every woman is the architect of her own fortune’.  

The phrase is contradictory to Nella’s circumstances – she had little say in her choice of husband, having been married off by her mother, after the death of her father left the family drowning in debt.

But is the mysterious miniaturist Nella’s ally, or is something more sinister afoot? Along with the pieces she ordered, Nella receives additional items that are eerily identical to the furniture in the Brandt household, and as more pieces arrive, the miniaturist morphs from craftsperson to prophet, and events take a turn for the downright disturbing.

Lavishly executed, with meticulous attention to detail, The Miniaturist is an adaptation of the 2014 debut novel by Jessie Burton. The framing of every scene is deliberate and considered, and this has the effect of transforming the Brandt household into a life-sized doll’s house, with the viewer peering in.

Romola Garai gives an utterly compelling and deeply unsettling performance as Johannes’ seemingly sanctimonious sister, Marin. 

“When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating,” Garai says.

“Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business… She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.” 

However, the women of Amsterdam in the mid seventeenth century were restricted in just about every facet of their lives, the least of which were the physical constrictions of cumbersome clothing.

“I think as a woman it transports you,” said Anya Taylor-Joy. “It’s like an ancestral memory of, ‘Wow, they really didn’t want us doing anything.’ Running in that thing is hard. Breathing in a corset is difficult.”

However intriguing and dark the series is, there are some moments of droll humour.  A homesick Nella requests some marzipan and is promptly rebuffed by Marin. 

“We do not keep sugar in the house,” she says. “The luxury of it sickens the soul. Cornelia will bring you a herring.”


Stream the complete season of The Miniaturist at  SBS On Demand

More from The Guide
Cheeky comedy 'Robbie Hood' premieres Friday 5 July on SBS On Demand
A mischievous and heart-warming digital comedy that brings life in the territory to the small screen, 'Robbie Hood' will premiere on SBS On Demand on Friday 5 July.
Meet the contenders getting a second shot at the ‘Mastermind’ title
Some of our top scoring runners-up step into the spotlight again for their second chance to take on the famous black chair.
This episode of ‘The Good Fight’ has been censored – here’s why
Audiences thought ‘The Good Fight’ was making a joke about censorship. Then the truth came out.
The Playlist Ep 96 – ‘Rocketman’ (Taron Egerton & Dexter Fletcher) / ‘American Gigolo’ / ‘Veep’ / ‘Long Shot’

0:44 Is Rocketman, the new Elton John biopic musical, a good movie? Nick and Fiona try to work it out.

10:40 Fiona interviews Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher and star Taron Egerton.

18:45 Nick and Fiona go back to 1980 to discuss whether Paul Schrader's American Gigolo, starring Richard Gere at peak handsomeness, holds up. American Gigolo airs on Sunday, 2 June at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND and streams afterwards at SBS On Demand.

23:59 Was the Veep finale satisfying? Nick and Fiona discuss what kind of American political satire works in the current climate. Plus Fiona got around to seeing the Charlize Theron romcom Long Shot.

5 reasons to watch ‘Life and Death Row’
It’s one of the most powerful true crime series you’ll see.
Meet the addicts seeking help in ‘Intervention’
There is heartbreak and hope as families intervene to save the lives of loved ones.
Celebrating the silly side of Freddie Mercury and Queen
When a musician dies under tragic circumstances, a certain heaviness is ascribed to their art - a heaviness often not represented in the art itself.
With heartbreaking and humorous first-hand accounts, ‘Me and My…’ shows us what it's like to be different
Without a host or narrator, people living with a variety of physical and mental differences describe the battles with their own inner demons as well as the prejudice from others.
Here’s what’s leaving SBS On Demand in June
June is your last chance to watch programs as diverse as ‘Sons Of Namatjira’, ‘Wadjda’, the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and US crime drama ‘Bosch’. And if you’re missing Eurovision, you’ll love ‘Eurovision Choir Of The Year 2017’ and ‘Destination Flavour Eurovision’.