Colin Firth plays Jan Vermeer in the film The Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
Filmed winter 2002/2003 in Luxembourg.
DIRECTOR: Peter Webber
CAST: Colin Firth (Jan Vermeer), Scarlett Johansson [Griet], Tom Wilkinson [Van Ruijven], Cillian Murphy, Alakina Mann [Cornelia], Essie Davis [Catharina], Judy Parfitt [Maria Thins], David Morrissey
STORYLINE: Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter's attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings - the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings. In contrast to her work in her master's studio, Griet must carve a place for herself in a chaotic Catholic household run by Vermeer's volatile wife Catharina, his shrewd mother-in-law Maria Thins, and their fiercely loyal maid Tanneke. Six children (and counting) fill out the household, dominated by six-year-old Cornelia, a mischievous girl who sees more than she should.
On the verge of womanhood, Griet also contends with the growing attentions both from a local butcher and from Vermeer's patron, the wealthy van Ruijven. And she has to find her way through this new and strange life outside the loving Protestant family she grew up in, now fragmented by accident and death. As Griet becomes part of her master's work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and even - as the scandal seeps out - ripples in the world beyond.
Above. Party at Vermeer's.
From Premiere Magazine, August 2003:
First-time director Webber realized he wanted to make the film when he read the script's sexiest scene, in which Vermeer pierces the young girl's ear. "I just thought, 'Oh my God, this is something I haven't seen before,'" he says. Webber would rather please fans of the book than art historians. "It's no surprise to me that there's an awful lot of middle-aged women who loved this novel to death, " he says. "It's a romantic drama. We can't go too highfalutin about it."
From The Express 4 July 2003:
From Premiere Mag, May 2003:
"It's a film about painting," first-time director Webber says on the Luxembourg set of Girl With a Pearl Earring, an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's 1999 best-selling historical novel that imagines a liaison between the artist and the subject of the eponymous painting. "But it's also about money and sex and obsession and power and repression, watching people who want to shag each other's brains out and not being able to. That's much more interesting than seeing people do it."
Little is known about the Dutch master, who when he died at 43 left behind a wife, 11 children, and 35 paintings, but virtually no record of himself.
Firth's suit and coiffure are the filmmaker's improvisations. Is the hair real?
"No," says the self-deprecating Firth (Bridget Jones's Diary), fondly twisting a strand. "I think this is probably no longer possible."
The actor, who says he fell in love with the painter's work when he saw Young Woman With a Water Jug at the Met several years ago, admits that he has become a bit of Vermeer nerd. But gathering trivia hasn't helped him to demystify the artist. "I would love to know what Vermeer looked like, and what he had for breakfast, and what he sounded like when he spoke," says Firth. "I'm dying of curiosity. But it wouldn't help me get any closer to his pictures."
Johansson (Ghost World), on the other hand, in dyed-blond eyebrows and period clothes looks uncannily like the subject of the famous painting. She also adopted a British accent. "I'm just trying to avoid sounding like a complete asshole," she says. The young actress is relieved to be shooting this understated love story in Europe, and that it's not a typical American production. "It would be completely hellish to have the pressure of putting on a Hollywood ending, or putting in a scene where Vermeer sees Griet washing her breasts."
From the Globe and Mail, 25 June 2003:
Chevalier - whose eponymous novel was inspired by Girl with a Pearl Earring by the Flemish painter Johannes Vermeer - recalls sitting for hours in the museum, assessing the portrait of the 17th-Century unknown girl/woman. Years before, Chevalier had bought a poster of the famed art work. And for the better part of a decade the author says she was bemused and bewildered by Vermeer's enigmatic subject. Was she 12? Or 22? Where did she come from? What would she do with her life? Why was the girl, turned three-quarters around, looking at the painter in that way, tempting on one hand, but also timid.
It was these questions that motivated Chevalier to write Girl with a Pearl Earring. A book that Chevalier says she knew was "half-decent" when she was finished writing the final chapter in the fall of 1998. But never dreamed would take off, largely through word-of-mouth, to sell more than 2-million copies.
In November, Chevalier's novel becomes a film, starring the British actor Colin Firth (Bridget Jones Diary, Shakespeare in Love) as Vermeer and Hollywood newcomer Scarlett Johansson (The Horse Whisperer, An American Rhapsody) as the mysterious "girl," whom Chevalier named Griet, and fictionalized as a maid who worked for the painter, and eventually became his muse.
"Even after all that time in the museum, I felt I didn't get enough of her. I couldn't get her," says Chevalier, who was recently at the Banff Television Festival to talk about her experience transitioning a novel into a screenplay. 'I couldn't get her. It's like an itch that can't be scratched. The expression on the girl's face is a very ambiguous one. It's impossible to pin down what she's thinking. I couldn't get the thought out of my head that she had a lot of growing up to do. So as much as anything else, I guess my book - and the upcoming film - is a coming-of-age story." /.../
"Every writer dreams about their book being made into a film. I had hopes for this because it's a very visual story, but I was also very nervous and somewhat ambivalent because so many books that become movies fall flat," adds Chevalier.
Shot last November in Luxembourg, the film was originally to star Ralph Fiennes and Kate Hudson. Kirsten Dunst was also reportedly interested in the role, but all fell through because of a lack of financing. As the book took off, the money for the film eventually firmed up. Chevalier says she's ecstatic with the actors who are playing the leading roles, adding that Griet is a tough character to play since her role actually has very little dialogue. "It's a very visual book, and a very visual film," the writer says. "Griet does a lot of watching, and very little talking. Scarlett plays it perfectly."
At the Banff session, Hetreed described the film as a domestic thriller. The first-time director Peter Webber calls it a movie about painting. But with a twist. "It's also about money and sex and obsession and power and repression watching people who want to shag each other's brains out and not being able to," he said recently. "That's much more interesting than seeing people do it."
Chevalier agrees, adding that it was intriguing to watch the actors inhabit her characters, and give them a life of their own. "Colin and Scarlett are very different from each other in how they approached their roles. Colin became a complete Vermeer egghead. He travelled all over Europe to see Vermeer's paintings. He took painting lessons and learned how to make his own brushes and grind his own paint. He was very engaged in the script."
Very little is known of Vermeer, who died at 43, bankrupt, and leaving behind a wife, 11 children and 35 paintings. Chevalier says Firth, 42, read everything he could lay his hands on about the artist. "And I thought, yes!" Because he became obsessive in a way that I believe Vermeer would have been obsessive about his paintings.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, she recalls, was her fastest book, and perhaps the easiest to write. She started it in February, 1998, and finished the following October, working full-time. "Two weeks later I had my son. There's nothing like a fixed biological deadline to focus the mind! I don't think I'll ever write anything so quickly again." When she wrote this book, Chevalier bought some linseed oil (mixed with pigment to make paint) and "left the bottle open as I was writing so that I could smell what they would have smelled."
From The Express, 18 September 2002: It is a great day for fans of Colin Firth. The actor, forever remembered as wet-shirted Mr Darcy in Pride And Prejudice, will shortly be back in period breeches in Girl With A Pearl Earring. Colin, 42, currently to be seen in the film of Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest, is to appear as the 17th-century Dutch painter Vermeer in the film version of Tracy Chevalier's bestselling book./.../
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