Girl with a Pearl Earring

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I had this pegged as a snoozefest, as history-based melodramas tend to be. Instead I was pleasantly surprised. It's not new (from 2003), but Mrs. Salad loooves Mr. Darcy, aka Colin Firth.

It is a fictionalized guess at the backstory behind Vermeer's titular painting. Griet, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a Puritan peasant girl in Delft. Economic necessity gets her work in the Vermeer household; they are also in continual danger of declining economic status should the painter's patron (Tom Wilkinson) lose interest, a matter of great concern to Vermeer's wife and mother-in-law.

Colin Firth plays Vermeer, a typical obsessed moody genius. He notes that Griet is not only beautiful (duh, Scarlett Johansson, remember?) but also has a natural artistic eye. Gradually she gets drawn into his orbit as assistant and model. And… well, you've probably seen the painting.

Surprise: Cillian Murphy in a small role where he is not a slimy villain.

Usually I don't notice cinematography. But I did here: it's very good. In fact, I thought while watching that the cinematographer made a conscious effort to make his shots "painterly", if that's a word. So I checked on IMDB and was gratified to note that the movie was Oscar-nominated for cinematography. And this article seems to confirm my guess about the cinematographer's aims.

Suggestion: if you can swing it, watch as a double feature with the documentary Tim's Vermeer.