×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘The Miniaturist’ on PBS

A solid edition of the PBS “Masterpiece” lineup tends to indulge some combination of the following: a plucky heroine, a secretly soft hero, a compelling romance and/or mystery, and a lush period backdrop to set it all off. “The Miniaturist” — based on Jessie Burton’s 2014 novel — technically works well as the latest entry, traveling back to 1686 Amsterdam for a tale laced with secrecy, intrigue, and even a hint of supernatural subterfuge. It features a determined heroine in teen bride Nella (Anna Taylor-Joy, “The Witch”), sent to live in a new home with a rich and broody new husband Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell), his wary sister Marin (Romola Garai), and a pair of servants — surly Cornelia (Hayley Squires) and loyal Otto (Paapa Essiedu) — who know much more about all of the above than they initially let on.

But things only start to take off once Johannes gifts Nella with a dollhouse modeled after her new home, and the miniaturist she commissions to outfit it with a few accessories instead produces startlingly accurate facsimiles of everything from their furniture to themselves. As Nella starts to uncover more about the unsettling family she’s become part of, she becomes more obsessed with the miniaturist’s creations — especially as the miniaturist appears to become more obsessed with Nella’s life, too.

“The Miniaturist” does take a couple notable detours from the typical “Masterpiece” script. The reality of Otto’s life as a black man in determinedly white Amsterdam, for instance, isn’t glossed over (though his overall characterization as an individual is). And without spoiling anything, the growing power of Amsterdam’s Puritans and their increasingly rigid ideals collide with the Brandt household’s veiled secrets in swift, startling fashion.

In theory, all these stories should be more than enough to fill three hourlong episodes. Somehow, though, the miniseries feels both overlong and stunted as it lurches between storylines. The miniaturist, Nella and Johannes’ marriage, and Marin’s jeopardized place within the house all take turns as the main focus, giving none of the threads enough consideration to find a real groove of their own. Adding to the confusion is that the cast seems split between two very different tones. Joy and Essiedu’s (better) performances opt for quiet intensity with flashes of passion. Hampered in part by thinly scripted characterizations, Hassell, Squires, and Garai’s are composites of many similar characters from period pieces past. Garai in particular gives a strange performance, as Marin monotones her way through lesser versions of Jessica Chastain’s arch and meaty “Crimson Peak” monologues.

It’s a shame that the series never quite gels, given how much it has going for it in terms of story, talent, and the truly spectacular production design and costuming that sets off the on location shoots with such style. But just like the dollhouse at its center, “The Miniaturist” is better at housing facsimiles rather than characters that feel real.

Limited series, PBS; 3 episodes all watched for review. Premieres Sun. Sept 9 at 9 pm.

Cast: Anna Taylor-Joy, Romola Garai, Alex Hassell, Paapa Essiedu, Hayley Squires, Emily Berrington.

Crew: Executive producers: Kate Sinclair, George Faber, Elizabeth Kilgarriff, Rebecca Eaton.

TV Review: 'The Miniaturist' on PBS

More TV

  • Rick Gomez

    'NYPD Blue' Pilot at ABC Adds Rick Gomez in Series Regular Role

    The “NYPD Blue” sequel pilot has cast Rick Gomez in the series regular role of Det. Craig Pettibone, Variety has learned. Pettibone is studying law at night with the goal of passing the bar one day. Although he hasn’t passed it yet, he’s aggressive enough to be already drumming up clients by passing out his business [...]

  • Set di "Gomorra 3", regia di

    'My Brilliant Friend,' 'Gomorrah' Show Different Sides of Naples

    When Saverio Costanzo, the director of HBO and RAI’s “My Brilliant Friend,” started to plan how he would depict the grand but gritty city of Naples — one that’s so vivid in the imaginations of millions of Elena Ferrante readers, he quickly decided that the working-class neighborhood at the core of her four Neapolitan novels [...]

  • RENT: Top L-R to Bottom L-R:

    How Fox's Live Version of 'Rent' Honors and 'Enhances' Jonathan Larson's Vision

    In the more than 20 years since Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” first debuted on Broadway, the conversation of adaptation has often come up: Film director Chris Columbus infamously brought the story to the big screen in 2005, Michael John Warren similarly shot one of the final performances of the original theater run in 2008, and talk [...]

  • Conversations With a Killer: The Ted

    TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes'

    The title “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” Netflix’s new four-part documentary series launching Jan. 24, is slightly misleading. Not about its subject, Bundy, the infamous serial killer who finally confessed to some 30 murders before his 1989 death in the electric chair. The misnomer is “Conversations.” While we hear Bundy’s voice on [...]

  • Marvel's The Punisher

    'Punisher' Star Jon Bernthal on Season 2, Broken Bones and Frank's 'Self-Loathing'

    “The Punisher” returns for its second season today, opening on a Frank Castle in search of a more peaceful life. “He’s dipping his toes in the potential waters of peace,” series star Jon Bernthal told Variety. “He’s flirting with human interaction and human connection. I think it goes awry pretty quickly. There’s a kernel of truth that [...]

  • Emmys statue

    TV Academy to Eliminate Emmy DVD Screeners in 2020

    The Television Academy will eliminate distribution of DVD screeners for eligible shows beginning with the 2020 Emmy cycle. Designed to eliminate both monetary and physical waste, the move will have a substantive impact on the strategy of Emmy marketers. It also makes the academy the first major entertainment-industry organization to bar physical screeners. More Reviews [...]

  • Black-ish Actor Deon Cole Lands New

    'Black-ish' Star Deon Cole Talks Diversity in Television and Landing New Dream Role

    2019 is shaping up to be Deon Cole’s year, and to hear the actor and comedian tell it, “the stars have lined up and everything is coming together.” Fresh off the Season 2 premiere of Freeform’s “Grown-ish,” with Cole reprising his “Black-ish” role of Professor Charlie Telphy, the actor takes on a slightly different role [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content