The Miniaturist Finally Comes to the U.S.!

8

The TV adaption of Jessie Burton’s novel The Miniaturist (2017) set in 1686 Amsterdam was co-produced by the BBC and PBS, and it aired in the U.K. last Christmas. PBS has been teasing and previewing it since last fall, so it’s annoying to have had to wait a year to finally see it here in the states! Was it worth the wait? Pretty much, at least as a costume drama. I can’t speak to how well the book was adapted since I haven’t read it, but I have some opinions on the story, which is chock full of twists, so warning, if you haven’t seen it yet, here be spoilers.

The tale has a fascinating background because Burton based it on an actual museum object and used the real names of the owners (although not their life story). In a BBC interview, she explains:

“I was in Amsterdam on holiday. We went to the Rijksmuseum and that’s where I first saw the real dolls house, which is actually called a cabinet, which became the symbol of the novel and my point of focus for writing it. I was immediately struck by how beautiful it was and how imposing it was, as well as intricate and intimate.

Then when I found out that the woman who owned it, Petronella Oortman, spent as much money on it as a real house, I became interested in the psychology of the cabinet house and what it symbolised, both in regards to the city of Amsterdam and this woman is her domestic, claustrophobic existence. It took her 19 years in total to complete it and she hired the services of over 800 craftsmen and women in the city of Amsterdam and beyond.”

1686-1710 - doll's house of Petronella Oortman (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

1686-1710 – doll’s house of Petronella Oortman (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Burton did extensive research into historical era for the book, and likewise, the producers and designers did a great deal of research into everything from the authentic locations to the period costumes and the elaborate miniatures that are the focus of so much of the story.

The Miniaturist (2018) - costume design board

Costume design board.

Joanna Eatwell is the costume designer, best-known for her amazing work on Wolf Hall (2015), and she definitely did her homework here. According to PBS, there was some hand-sewing involved in the costumes for The Miniaturist:

“Costume designer Joanna Eatwell (also of Wolf Hall), whenever possible, employed “Original Practice,” a technique that uses patterns and methods from the corresponding historical period, which means lots of hand sewing of fibers that were available at the time.”

1670s - A Young Girl at a Table by Michiel van Musscher

1670s – A Young Girl at a Table by Michiel van Musscher

Let’s run through the major costumes in the miniseries, then I’ll talk a little bit about the plot itself. As I warned, there may be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the show yet, sorry, but there are major twists that I can’t avoid mentioning!

 

Petronella’s Orange Velvet Doublet & Red Skirt

The Miniaturist (2018) - Nella - rust gown

This is the outfit she wears at home in the countryside and when she arrives in Amsterdam. As a result, it’s a little more plain than everything else she wears, but the shape and cut are still fashionable for the period. No slashed sleeves is the main difference here.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - rust gown w/cape

Faux gold buttons down the front. Like most of her outfits, it’s back-lacing.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - orange gown

Sad first breakfast at her new home.

 

Petronella’s White Silk Mules

The Miniaturist (2018) Otto presents shoes

Immediately upon arriving in the Brandt home, Nella is presented with these shoes embroidered with her new monogram. Their delicacy shows these shoes are intended for indoor wear as the new lady of the house, and they’re are often seen at her bedside.

 

Petronella’s Blue Silk Gown

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - blue gown

This slashed-sleeve gown has a split-front skirt and is worn over a pale green petticoat (she has a coordinating capelet also). The dress was a gift from her husband, so doesn’t fit at her first wearing. Later on, she’s had it altered to her size. That would have been an interesting challenge for both the costume department and the director — films aren’t always shot sequentially, so they’d have to have made sure to schedule the shots of her in the bigger dress first, then give the costumers time to alter the gown, then shoot the later scenes!

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella - blue gown

Not a great screencap, but yes, the dress fits now!

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella - blue gown - back

Accurate back-lacing.

1665 - Musical Evening by Caspar Netscher

1665 – Musical Evening by Caspar Netscher

The Miniaturist (2018) - group w/Anya Taylor-Joy - blue gown

Later at church, the same gown with the capelet that goes with the petticoat, plus mitts.

 

Petronella’s Yellow Silk Gown

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - yellow gown

This is another slashed-sleeve, split-front gown, and it’s worn with pale tan (?) petticoat. There’s wide lace at the collar.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - yellow gown

The not-so-happy couple, right out of a portrait (minus the rest of the family).

1675 - Jan Jacobsz Hinlopen and Family by Gabriel Metsu

1675 – Jan Jacobsz Hinlopen and Family by Gabriel Metsu

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - yellow gown back

Again, accurate back-lacing.

1660s - silver tissue dress, Museum of Fashion, Bath, U.K.

1660s – silver tissue dress, Museum of Fashion, Bath, U.K.

 

Petronella’s Black & Gold Gown

This is her fanciest gown, which Nella wears to a feast and when guests come over for dinner. The style is more fitted and with a lower neckline than her usual gowns, although it still has the split front and slashed sleeves. Hard to tell the fabric colors because the scenes are so dark — there’s black and gold and brown going on. She also wears her most elaborate hairstyle and jewelry with this gown.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - blk gold gown

 

Petronella’s Red Silk Doublet & Brown Silk Skirt

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - rust gown

Great example of 17th-century mix-and-match. She wears this slashed-sleeve doublet and skirt outfit with different partlets and kerchiefs on different days. Joanna Eatwell did a nice job of giving Nella a full wardrobe of pieces that approximate how much clothes a woman of this station would have, instead of making brand-new things for each scene.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -red doublet

Worn with a white partlet that’s pinned down. Clear view of Nella’s pretty boring hairstyle — I guess it emphasizes how young she is, ho-hum.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -red doublet

With sheer black partlet (looks like the same one worn with the fancy black & gold gown). Great view of the seaming of the doublet. Non-functional gold or brass buttons.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -red doublet

Worn with a white kerchief tucked into the neckline. The skirt has dark trim down the center front & along the hem.

The Miniaturist (2018) - group w/Anya Taylor-Joy - rust gown

And at Johannes’ trial, worn under a dark capelet & with dark mitts.

 

Petronella’s Brown Silk Doublet & Orange Silk Skirt

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - brown gown

This doublet has excellent piping all along the front and back seams, as well as a cute little peplum.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella - brown gown

I thought this might be the same skirt as with the red doublet, until I caught a full-length view.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella - brown gown

This one laces up the front, & the back gets contrast piping. I think that piping is coordinating on the skirt at the center front as well.

 

Petronella’s Servant Disguise

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -disguise

When Nella first visits her husband Johannes in jail, she doesn’t want to be recognized, so she dresses up as a servant. It’s not clear if these are clothes borrowed from Cornelia or something she had stashed away from her days at home in the country. The fit and cut are excellent, and the jacket features embroidery at the cuffs.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -disguise

Peasant-y exposed front-lacing & fancy embroidery.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -disguise

PERFECTLY HISTORICAL CAP!!!

 

Petronella’s Purple Gown

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - purple gown

Her mourning gown is still richly elegant in a pinstripe purple with black trim along the bodice. It’s in her standard split-front style and worn with an almost matching solid purple petticoat.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -purple gown

The petticoat is just a shade lighter purple than the gown, while the sleeve puffs are a pale blue.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -purple gown

I lightened the image to show how the black trim of the front is repeated along the seams in the back.

 

Petronella’s Undergarments

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - stays

From the very beginning, we see that Nella wears stays because her mother laces her up (and no sign of metal grommets, yay!). Her stays are edged with red embroidery and accented with flossing along the center, side, and back bones. She also has excellent 17th-century embroidery on her smocks.

In a BBC interview with actress Anya Taylor-Joy who played Nella, she said:

“I was on set every single day, every single second, so that definitely felt that I was going through ‘corset training 101’ or something — but it was an awesome experience and the costumes were beautiful.”

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -stays

Nella gets laced-up by her mother.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Anya Taylor-Joy - smock

Some of her smocks feature redwork embroidery.

 

Petronella’s Accessories

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -capelet

The accessories really make these costumes look like real clothing. Caps, collars, capelets, mitts, and muffs are in abundance. For example, Nella has an assortment of caps (although her hairstyle is almost always the same, boring, pulled-back braid-and-twist). She has capelets that coordinate her outfits, such as a brown ones for orange and red outfits and a green one with her blue gown.

The Miniaturist (2018) Nella -capelet

She has at least four capelets!

 

Marin’s Black Gown

The Miniaturist (2018) - Romola Garai

Johannes’ sister wears essentially the same outfit during the whole series, and it’s not very remarkable. Except that 1) it’s right out of a 1660s painting, and 2) there’s a key scene when Nella notices how the miniaturist has made a doll of Marin and used the same fabric to recreate Marin’s gown. So there’s that.

In a BBC interview with actress Romola Garai, who plays Marin, she explains:

“Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!”

1666 - Interior of the Sint Laurenskerk in Rotterdam by Cornelis de Man

1666 – Interior of the Sint Laurenskerk in Rotterdam by Cornelis de Man

The Miniaturist (2018)
The Miniaturist (2018) -marin

Nella looks at the fabrics used on the doll version of Marin…

The Miniaturist (2018) -marin

And compares to one of Marin’s actual gowns in a chest and finds that they’re identical. Spooky!

 

Servant’s Costumes

The Miniaturist (2018) - Hayley Squires - Paapa Essiedu

The Brandt household is rich, so the servants are well-dressed too. Their clothes are cut in a reasonably fashionable shape, but in plain fabrics suited to their work. Cornelia wears stays and gets some embroidery on her smocks. Otto has a bit of trim and shiny buttons on his waistcoat. But mostly they’re dressed in sober, respectable garb.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Hayley Squires

Cornelia, closeup, you can see her sleeves are detachable (very practical for her work), and her bodice has stiff boning.

The Miniaturist (2018) Cornelia -smock

In a scene when Cornelia is waking Nella up, we see that even the servant has a touch of embroidery on her smock (plus a bit on Nella’s).

The Miniaturist (2018) Cornelia -stays

In a much later scene, Cornelia is shown in her stays, which are much simpler than Nella’s, but also have a little bit of trim & embroidery.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Paapa Essiedu

Otto’s fashionable waistcoat helps show his rise in status from a slave to valet.

 

Johannes’ Costumes

Yeah, yeah, I’m giving short shrift to the men, so sue me. Their costumes look fine, like the portraits, but they don’t excite me, plus this story isn’t too much about them! Still, I needed to point out one thing. Johannes wears a puffy shirt done right. Meaning, there are ribbons tying his sleeves into puffs. No elastic! This is not Seinfeld or Versailles, thank the gods!

The Miniaturist (2018) johannes

 

Other Costumes in The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist (2018) - woman w/lace

Frans and Agnes Meermans are Johannes’ business partners (and there’s more backstory between them and Marin). Agnes is the only very wealthy woman seen in the show, and the only one who actually has her hair in a truly fashionable style. However, this is only shown in some very dark scenes so I couldn’t get good screencaps! Weirdly, it’s best shown on the doll the miniaturist makes of Agnes. In other scenes, Agnes’ clothing extravagance is easily on display.

The Miniaturist (2018) agnes -hair

Agnes at the feast has a those typical 17th-c. spaniel curls.

The Miniaturist (2018) agnes -doll

The doll version shows more of her dress & jewels (the white thing is a cone of sugar, since that’s what she & her husband are trying to sell). 

The Miniaturist (2018) - blonde - grey gown

The mysterious miniaturist wears simple middling-class garb suitable for working artist, similar to that seen on servants & attendants in wealthy houses in period imagery.

1670 - Lady Writing a Letter - by Johannes Vermeer

1670 – Lady Writing a Letter – by Johannes Vermeer

The Miniaturist (2018) - bts - filming in Leiden

Behind-the-scenes shot from filming in Leiden. Check out how well they resemble painting of the era, with hats, lace collars, and since this is outdoors, added muffs, capelets, coats, and even dogs.

1676 - The Governors and Governesses of the Oudemannen en Vrouwengasthuis by Adriaen Backer

1676 – The Governors and Governesses of the Oudemannen en Vrouwengasthuis by Adriaen Backer

The Miniaturist (2018) - bts - filming in Leiden

Another behind-the-scenes shot from Leiden. The boots are OK here because they’re outdoors.

The Miniaturist (2018) - bts - filming in Leiden - men

Nice closeup of the collars and hats, behind-the-scenes in Leiden.

The Miniaturist (2018) - Jessie Burton - author

The novel’s author Jessie Burton got to dress up as an extra during the feast scene!

Now about the story itself! Overall, I enjoyed watching The Miniaturist — it moves along at a nice clip with tight plotting, good casting, and excellent acting. This rather like a Jane Austen story mixed with a Poldark plot in that genteel misdirections and slightly ridiculous subterfuges make everything happen. It’s not exactly a mystery, since the big “surprises” are both fairly easy to figure out by the viewer, just not by the characters, and they’re exposed somewhat early on as they’re crucial to moving the story ahead (except for one final reveal).

I’m torn by how first plot point — that Johannes is gay — is handled within the story. Yes, a rich Dutch merchant who’s homosexual would need to marry a woman as a beard to hide his true self. I could even buy that his sister and two servants would help keep his secret because, at the very least, that maintains their own lifestyles. And I can get Nella’s reaction because she does go through both anger, revulsion, and then acceptance, which seem appropriate to the period.

What I didn’t like was Johannes himself being painted as such a horndog, where being gay was all about getting fucked whenever, wherever, and by whatever he could. Sure, that’s a thing! But that was his only thing! He was so one-dimensional that made me wonder why the household went to extremes to protect him, and not in a mercenary “this is a comfortable house” fashion. Everyone seemed so high-minded and had so much love and respect for Johannes, while he was just interested in getting his rocks off, so who cares if they drown him? Really, let him go.

Conversely, some of the criticisms of the book seem to be remedied in the TV version. Where The Guardian‘s book review said Nella “has a sensibility more akin to that of a 21st-century teenager than a 17th-century one: outspoken, determined, reflexively feminist,” I found Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance as Nella appropriately naive at first, as truths slowly dawned on her. The Chicago Tribune‘s book review complains about the unlikelihood of the story happening at all, which, OK, yeah, sure, this is definitely a broad fiction, it’s not a slice-of-life thing! But the reviewer has a lot of issues:

“…their behavior, sometimes, just doesn’t make sense. Nella’s reaction to her husband’s secrets, when they are exposed, doesn’t seem to be the response of a naive 17th-century country girl, but rather that of a more worldly 21st-century woman. Her business acumen, when called upon, seems seasoned and knowledgeable, though she has never worked a day in her life. The risks Johannes takes to satisfy his sexual needs — including open-air trysts and encounters in unlocked rooms — seem overly careless.”

The TV version felt like it addressed all of these concerns quite neatly. Nella’s reaction was partly religious — she does yell out something about ‘now I know my husband is condemned to hell’ — and partly self-centered, which is typical teenage angst. She gets over it when the risks to the rest of the household and even her family back in the country are explained to her. Nella’s business acumen, on screen, seems more like taking a risk and getting lucky than having advanced skill. As for Johannes’ behavior, c’mon, getting caught during a sex act is one of the oldest tropes in storytelling. At least on TV, it only appears to happen twice, which isn’t overly careless. Maybe there’s something to be said for the shortcuts that TV takes at times.

 

Have you seen The Miniaturist? Did you read the book? What did you think?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

8 Responses

  1. Gail

    oh, well …

    what a boys me is PBS — they co-produce, yet we see the shows months after they air in the UK. It makes me feel that they are treating us like ill informed consumers – as though we don’t know that the show aired last Christmas in the UK.

    It also aired on consecutive nights in the U.k., which would greatly help the momentum of this story.

    Reply
    • Gail

      what bothers me … damned autocorrect

      Still think it is no way for PBS to court a younger demographic …. they watched it in December if they were interested. And for longer shows — in this day and age, it is near impossible to avoid spoilers. (remember Downton and Sybil???)

      and sorry — love your site, but I’ve got kids in college…

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I fully agree! Even BBC America has tightened up what used to be a year-long delay between airing Doctor Who in the UK & US, so why can’t PBS speed things up w/the shows it coproduces w/the BBC & ITV? It’s frustrating.

      Reply
      • nkkingston

        Interestingly, you often get the same issue going the other way – Killing Eve has only just started airing in the UK despite being a joint production.

        (The Miniaturist looked gorgeous, but it felt to me like a prologue; I want to know what happens to the household after the story more than I care about the story that’s actually told)

        Reply
  2. Fran in NYC

    They also made a 2-part story into a 3-part story. I feel that was done because they had 3 Sundays to fill before the new season of Poldark! That’s the sort of consideration I think they take when it comes to a property that has less media attention.

    Reply
  3. Fogbraider

    I found the story very unsatisfying. The miniaturist herself has no motivation, and the periodic arrival of the miniatures doesn’t drive the plot. The story would be exactly the same without this added supernatural/psychic commentary.

    Reply
  4. Susan Pola Staples

    I enjoyed it and the gorgeous and accurate costumes. I’d read the book and sort of halfway enjoyed it bc I felt it needed the afterwards told. The dynamics between the women were interesting. Marin and Cordelia start by thinking Bella is just a pretty face and beard but come to respect her. Bella grows up and realises how confined women are —i am not going into the how Bella and Marin grow to like each other for fear of giving away the spoiler…

    Reply

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