TV review: The Miniaturist, BBC One
- Brian Donaldson
- 15 December 2017
Lush adaptation of acclaimed 17th century Amsterdam-set novel falls a little short
While Jessie Burton's debut novel The Miniaturist was subject of an almighty bidding war among publishers before its release in 2014, it was surely only ever going to be a lavish BBC production once its TV adaptation was mooted. And so it arrives as part of the channel's festive package and provides an exquisite-looking downer amid the merriment of the season.
Over its two parts, The Miniaturist is like a Vermeer portrait sprung to life but beneath the gloss is a tale of bigotry and intolerance set in a late 17th century Amsterdam riven and ruled by religious fundamentalism. Leaving the Dutch countryside to live in the big city with her new husband, the wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell), 18-year-old Petronella Oortman (Anya Taylor Joy) is met by her stern new sister-in-law, the devout Marin (Romola Garai). Soon, her dreams of happy-ever-after turn to dust when Johannes immediately becomes a distant spouse, while handing her a gift of a mini replica of their home which she is tasked with filling. But when the anonymous hired miniaturist begins sending items which seem to suggest dark mysteries within the Brandt home, events start unfolding with everyone's lives falling apart, including those of the main servants (Hayley Squires and Paapa Essiedu).
As the narrative's underlying themes of homophobia and racism begin to tear away at The Miniaturist and roar to the story's surface, you should be feeling huge amounts of indignation and rage at the injustices inflicted on its victims. But despite these dire events, it's difficult to feel completely devastated by the story when the characters who are ultimately separated felt something less than actual love towards each other. None of which is to deny the fine performances, with Garai particularly impressive as the sour ascetic who serves up dull herring to Petronella instead of the zingy marzipan she craves. Perhaps a return to the source novel is where the true sweet delights of The Miniaturist lie.
The Miniaturist, BBC One, Tue 26 & Wed 27 December, 9pm