Delft, 1665. While Griet (Johansson) is well aware of her place in the Vermeer household, her menial station actually allows access to the master's studio, an access denied to both his wife and her mother. Vermeer (Firth) is soon impressed by the new servant's intuitive understanding of light and composition, as well as by her pale complexion and bee-stung lips. Inspired by Vermeer's paintings, cinematographer Eduardo Serra fashions a mise-en-scène of delicately illumined portraits jostling with everyday clutter. Controlled, patient and precise, the results are somewhat claustrophobically beautiful. Director Webber is careful to note the tight reins binding this society: a Puritanism which insists, for example, that women keep their heads covered, and the unsentimental economic imperatives which lead Vermeer's mother-in-law (Parfitt) to facilitate the deception of her daughter in an illicit portrait of Griet. Dialogue is sparse in this film of narrow looks and scowls. You may yearn for the characters to break free, but the movie feels shakiest when it brushes with melodrama. If it lacks the emotional pitch of Tracy Chevalier's novel, it gives us light, colour, shading; a very fine score by Alexandre Desplat; and confirms Johansson as the most acute and watchful of actresses.