Griet (Scarlett Johansson) the young daughter of a poor family in 17th century Delft, is sent to work as a housemaid for the family of painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth), who lives by getting painting commissions from his patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson). Griet’s arrival begins to unsettle the emotional balance of the family, and when Van Ruijven secretly demands that Vermeer paint her portrait for his private and very personal collection, Vermeer is inspired - but knows how badly his pregnant wife, Catharina (Essie Davis), will take it; he knows she can tell how drawn he is towards this young peasant girl with the vulnerable eyes and knowing smile.
 

4
Visually stunning and tremendous performances from the support cast.

Johannes Vermeer, one of the great masters of Dutch painting in the 17th Century, lived, according to Tracy Chevalier's book and first-time director Peter Webber's beautiful film, in a cluttered house in the city of Delft. Not much is actually known about Vermeer, but in this version, as played by Colin Firth, he emerges as a quiet, self-absorbed, piously Catholic artist who quietly beavers away in an upper room in the crowded house he shares with his shrewish wife, Essie Davis, numerous children, and a formidable mother-in-law, Judy Parfitt. Vermeer, who is not very practical, relies on the patronage of a wealthy businessman, Tom Wilkinson, to provide for his family.

The film depicts this closeted world through the eyes of a newcomer to the household, Griet, Scarlett Johansson, who is employed as a servant and whose fascination for her master's work - nobody else seems very interested in what he's doing - gradually leads to the forming of a bond between them, and to Vermeer using the girl as a model for one of his most celebrated paintings.

The great achievement of this exceedingly lovely film is that it transports us into this rare world with such semblance of reality. The production design by Ben van Os and the luminous photography by Eduardo Serra are works of art in themselves, bringing a rare, serene beauty to the screen. Though some of the incidents depicted, such as Griet's shy courtship with the son of the local butcher, are a bit conventional, overall the film succeeds very well in suggesting how a famous painting came to be created, and Scarlett Johansson's glorious performance easily matches her equally fine work in Lost In Translation.

Watch 'The Girl with a Pearl Earring' now at SBS On Demand: