TV Review: The Miniaturist

Tuesday 2 January 2018 by

Christmas on the BBC always promises great drama. This year, the two main dramas were both adapted from books – The Miniaturist and Little Women. The Miniaturist adaptation was perhaps the most hotly anticipated, with a legion of fans waiting for a faithful rendering of the story.

Set in the 17th Century, The Miniaturist tells the story of Nella Oortman (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has been married off to a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell), and must now live with him and his sister, Marin (Romola Garai) in Amsterdam. As a wedding gift, Brandt gives Nella a doll’s house replica of the main house, but things take a darker turn when the miniaturist she employs starts to fill her doll’s house with items Nella hasn’t asked for – and seem to unveil some of the closely kept secrets in the house.

Gothic and tense, The Miniaturist displays itself like a Vermeer painting on your screen – acidic contrasts between the dark rooms and Nella’s dresses, rich portraits with hidden messages and secret codes, sumptuous images daubed with motion. Director Guillem Morales certainly invokes the sensations of a Dutch renaissance painter in every shot – turning this thriller into something unexpectedly imaginative. This is reflected in the characters; whose spellbinding performances hold you captive throughout even if the plot itself ends up being flimsy.

Taylor-Joy is fantastic as the young wife, who starts off as a whimsical ingénue but transforms in to someone with a will of iron. At first, she is excluded from the secrets – the rest of the household oscillating between aggressively secretive and powerfully over-protective – but as they are gradually revealed to her she is forced to cope with them and even keep some herself.

In the end, it is the performances that keep the whole thing together. Although beautifully shot, with a cast to dazzle, the ultimate result is as empty as the doll’s house. The tension wavers despite best efforts, and the ultimate reveal of the miniaturist wanders between poetic and awkward. But between Taylor-Joy and Garai, you keep watching – even Hassell’s impassioned speech in the courtroom thankfully holds up under scrutiny.

A faithful retelling it may well be, but somehow what works so well as a novel just falls short of expectations on the screen. Nonetheless, thanks to it being so visually appetising, it makes for perfect post-Christmas watching. You can sit back and appreciate the beauty of the production. Plus, keep an eye out for Taylor-Joy in the future – she is one to watch.

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