(out of 5)
A young Dutch girl (Scarlett Johansson) from an impoverished family is sent to work as a maid in the house of painter Johannes Vermeer in 17th century Holland. She is immediately treated with ignorance from the lady of the house (Essie Davis) and cruelty from one of the painter’s children (Alakina Mann) until she meets the man (Colin Firth) himself. He immediately sees a brightness in her and begins to share with her the various ins and outs of painting, inviting her to help mix colours and teaching her about the creation of images on the canvas. Johansson eventually catches the eye of Vermeer’s wealthy patron (Tom Wilkinson), who commissions the artist to feature her in one of his most famous works, the masterpiece of the title. Inspired by the possibility that the woman in Vermeer’s painting really was one of his servants (some historians disagree), this fictional story uses factual characters to tell a brilliantly simple tale of artistic inspiration and passionate awakening. Johansson is perfectly cast as the young woman, a wide-eyed and innocent girl whose mind is brought to full consciousness by the new world of creation that she sees before her. The film’s story is a slim one, methodical and slow in its delivery, but it is its spareness that makes it so cherishable, a tiny glimpse behind one of the art world’s most beloved treasures. The period is recreated to absolute perfection, and Eduardo Serra’s photography is so gorgeously lit that every single shot looks like a painting.
Directed by Peter Webber
Cinematography by Eduardo Serra
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Production Design by Ben Van Os
Costume Design by Dien van Straalen
Film Editing by Kate Evans