By Jennifer Armstrong
May 07, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Peter Webber’s sumptuous Girl With a Pearl Earring, an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s novel, explores the subtle shades of difference between muse and lover, inspiration and desire, in telling the fictional story behind the real Johannes Vermeer portrait. Griet (Scarlett Johansson), the Vermeers’ young maid, strikes up an unusual friendship with the 17th-century Dutch master (Colin Firth) when she shows interest in his artistry — in contrast to his wife and mother-in-law, who are more concerned with his marketability. When Vermeer’s smarmy patron (Tom Wilkinson) demands that Vermeer paint Griet, the family unravels. Firth smolders with repressed passion between his scant lines; Johansson embodies pristine sensuality — and with every shot framed like a painting, the film would be riveting even on mute.

EXTRAS The video for Truman’s cross-promotional roots-rock track, ”Girl With a Pearl,” featuring Johansson, is skippable, but the Sundance Channel’s ”Anatomy of a Scene” provides gobs of film-geek details on lighting, set construction, and more.

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  • Movie
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  • PG-13
runtime
  • 99 minutes
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