Opinion: Thoughts on BBC Miniseries ‘The Miniaturist’

Last night, I watched the three part BBC miniseries The Miniaturist, and I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I had about it overall. My first impressions were that it would be an eerie mystery set in the 17th century, with an overarching theme of religious conflict.

The main character is played by Anya Taylor Joy who stars in The Witch — one of my favourite horror movies of all time. I guess I could be forgiven for thinking it would be something along those lines, considering the atmospheric and utterly creepy trailer. And I admit, within the first five minutes of episode 1, I was hooked.

It follows the story of Nella, who is being married off in Amsterdam to a wealthy merchant named Johannes Brandt, in order to pay off her family’s debt. However, when she arrives she finds that her husband isn’t really interested in her and his sister Marin is set on taking charge of the home, leaving Nella with very little to do.

As a wedding gift, Johannes gives Nella a cabinet house designed as a miniature replica of their home. Nella is tasked with finding a miniaturist to create furniture and pieces for the house. She finds one and sends off a list of the items she wants. When they arrive, Nella discovers more pieces than she ordered, some of them quite ominous that reveal things about the occupants of the house that no outsider would know.

Unfortunately, the plot ends there. Despite being called “The Miniaturist”, it is more about the characters within the house and the various struggles they have to go through. The 17th century is well known for its religious fanaticism. It was a time when people’s external appearances didn’t always match the lives they lead behind closed doors. The show explores this somewhat, but the way it does is kind of, well… dull.

We learn things about the characters, sometimes through the miniature pieces but also through the characters’ actions. After the first episode, the whole concept stops being creepy and starts inching towards soap opera drama. The ultimate reveal of the miniaturist in the final episode was so anti-climactic and rushed, I was left wondering why it was even part of the story to begin with.

As much as I was immersed in the beauty of it, the story itself fell flat. I really wanted to love it, but it wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be more like The Witch, where the creepy-factor in the beginning becomes something so much more sinister and evil towards the end, representing the characters’ downward spiral towards insanity.

I did some research on these miniature dollhouses from the 17th century, and I learned that in addition to being status symbols, they were a way for women to have ownership over something and decorate it the way they wanted. It was a woman’s way of expressing herself at a time when she didn’t have a voice in society. I think that would have been interesting for the narrative to explore in some way, even if it resorted to the supernatural.

I suppose it’s unfortunate to have expectations for shows like this, but there was one I watched a few months ago called Alias Grace (also based on a novel) that I consider to be one of the best shows I’ve watched this year (maybe ever) I think I might do a review of it at some point, but it’s been a while since I saw it. Maybe I’ll read the book and review that instead?

I hope to find more gems like Alias Grace, because unfortunately The Miniaturist wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

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