There is unlikely to be a better-looking film in 2004 than this self-consciously crafted adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's novel. Or one so exquisitely dull.
A fictional riff around the eponymous painting, it imagines the relationship between Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) and the maid who becomes his muse (Scarlett Johansson). With longing looks aplenty, unspoken desire, jealousy and strict social conventions, it will appeal to anyone who thinks The Age Of Innocence is Martin Scorsese's best film.
However, as succulent as the 17th century looks, as painterly as each frame is, there's simply no story here. In fact, it's hard to find a reason for the film to exist, other than to prove Firth's limitations as an actor and, conversely, Johansson's range. All porcelain beauty and fretful eyes, the young star proves she doesn't need a smart mouth to be entrancing - - even if she can't redeem an experience akin to an art-history degree (without the beer and good conversation).