If you have a chance, get your hands on this wonderful miniseries in two episodes. Take Girl with a Pearl Earring, those atmospheres of suspension, tension, a kind of domestic austerity whose line with violence is really thin, and cross it with mystery and magic of equally delicate nature, such as the kind of mystic you […]
If you have a chance, get your hands on this wonderful miniseries in two episodes. Take Girl with a Pearl Earring, those atmospheres of suspension, tension, a kind of domestic austerity whose line with violence is really thin, and cross it with mystery and magic of equally delicate nature, such as the kind of mystic you may find in British novels such as The Secret Garden. The Miniaturist is this and much much more.
Based on the novel by Jessie Burton, it’s set in Amsterdam at the end of the XVII Century and it supposedly takes inspiration from the actual Dollhouse of Petronella Oortman, on display at the Rijksmuseum, and in general from the fact that it was in fashion for wealthy women, at the time, to have and curate dollhouses as a symbol of their status. The story revolves around Petronella Oortman herself, though the biographical data is roughly used just for reference and for the main character: as a young bride, she arrives in Amsterdam from the countryside and she’s to be married to a rich merchant, Johannes Brandt, but it’s immediately clear that his sister Marin is the householder. Her and both servants, Cornelia and Otto, seem to be complicit in keeping a great secret and all Amsterdam seems to secretly think that brother and sister have a sacrilegious liaison.
Lonely and upset, Petronella starts curating the dollhouse Johannes gave her as a wedding gift: she orders a couple of more items to furnish it, from a miniaturist she finds on Smit’s List (the Yellow Pages of XVII Century Amsterdam), but more items keep showing at her door, each one seeming to contain a hint towards a secret of the big, cold house. Who is the mysterious miniaturist and how does he know so much? Is he a friend, a spy or a trickster? The small objects seem to hold a magical quality: they foresee the future or do they make it happen when they’re put into the house? It all tangles up with the actual secrets of the house and those happen to be about the personality and actual disposition of both Johannes and Marin.
Everything in this production is of really fine quality: acting, directing, photography, music. If you’re looking for something with the same look of a Vermeer painting, the same perfume of tulips and the same taste of the half-rotten sugar that’s at the center of the story, look for this series. Staged as a play, it could very easily be one. And now I want to read the novel.