“I knew nothing about Amsterdam before I wrote this book,” author Jessie Burton said at TCA during a panel discussion about PBS Masterpiece’s new series The Miniaturist–the tale of Petronella, a young woman married to a rich merchant in 1600s Amsterdam.
Burton had been inspired during a vacation in the Dutch city, when she came across an elaborate doll’s house in a museum, once owned by the real-life Petronella who spent more on the doll’s house than on a real home. “I had an idea for a story of a woman Petronella, who I make much younger than the real Nella,” Burton said. “She’s this young woman coming into this world of machiavellian intrigue and trade.”
When Nella moves into her new husband’s home, he presents her with a miniature version of their house, which is slowly filled with dolls and trinkets by a mysterious miniaturist. These items seem to hold some supernatural value and suggest to Nella that their lives are somehow in danger, echoed by the menace of her new sister-in-law Marin, played by Romola Garai (Churchill’s Secret).
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) was “very intrigued” by her role of Nella she said. “The ground underneath her is so unsteady…she starts putting herself inside a house with no walls inside of herself, and she actually gets to be a very modern woman and a matriarch and I was very excited about that.”
Running through the series is the theme of oppressed women finding a new way in society. “’Every woman is the architect of her own fortune’ is a Dutch motto that I changed from ‘every man is the architect of his own fortune’,” Burton said. “It’s a comment on how we tell ourselves stories in order to survive…does she hold the key to her own fate or does this miniaturist?”
Working in period costume was, Taylor-Joy said, helpful to her immersion in the role. “This was my first time in a corset and that was an interesting relationship I had with it for a while,” she said. “In the beginning I hated it, and now I love it. You enter a different world every day when you put on a costume and it helps that sense of make believe.”
EP Susanne Simpson cited the “remarkable” art direction and design of the Miniaturist team who’d also worked on Wolf Hall. “The British come from a craft system,” she said, “and filmmaking is a craft for them.”
“Candlelight was used,” Burton added of the on-point attention to detail. “There was very little electric light. There would be for boxes filled with candles that reflected out to give that glow.”
In seeing it on screen, Burton saw the production as “flawless” she said. She had thought of it as a ”performance piece” when she wrote the book, and, since she used to be an actress, “What I was doing there was potentially writing parts that I wish I could have had. There was a familiarity for me when I saw it. It was so exquisitely cast. It was just a joy and fairly effortless. It isn’t an overwhelming feeling, it was just, ‘Yeah that’s my book’.”