Mystery and foreboding are the mood of The Miniaturist, a sumptuous three-part period thriller premiering on MASTERPIECE on Sunday, September 9. But beauty and light are, too, and it’s in this spirit that we elucidate six surprising behind-the-scenes must-knows of the series that The Guardian (UK) calls “mesmerizing.”
Author Jessie Burton, an Oxford graduate and actress, was working as a personal assistant when inspiration for her first novel, The Miniaturist, struck. And she wasn’t even finished writing it when 11 publishers competed in a bidding war to snatch The Miniaturist up! Almost immediately upon its publication, the gripping historical novel became an international publishing sensation, topping bestseller lists and eventually selling over one million copies in 37 countries.
Burton’s inspiration for The Miniaturist was a dollhouse that the author saw on display in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum when she was on vacation in 2009. Made in 1689 for the real Petronella Oortman, the dollhouse was a detailed, elaborate, and precise replica of the Dutch woman’s own home. Fascinated by the exquisite furnishings for a doll’s house costing as much as the home in which it was displayed, Burton couldn’t help but wonder “Why?” That answer, and her research, led to The Miniaturist.
As Seen In…
Actress Anya Taylor-Joy helms her first MASTERPIECE lead as Petronella (Nella) Oortman, the young penniless aristocrat who arrives in Amsterdam ready to assume the role of wife to her wealthy (and strangely absent) new husband. But it’s actually not Taylor-Joy’s first time on a MASTERPIECE; before her astonishing breakout performance in The Witch (2015) and her leading role in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split (2017), she appeared in the Endeavour Season 2 episode, Nocturne!
A MASTERPIECE Favorite Returns
The Miniaturist‘s mysterious Marin, a severe and fiercely intelligent foil to her brother Johannes, is played by actress Romola Garai. MASTERPIECE fans may remember Garai from her portrayal of Millie Appleyard, nurse to an ailing Winston Churchill, in Churchill’s Secret (2016). And who could forget Garai as the marvelously oblivious matchmaker Emma Woodhouse Jane Austen’s Emma (2010), also on MASTERPIECE?
As a wedding gift from her husband, Nella receives a dollhouse replica of her prestigious new home, and commissions items to furnish it from a local miniaturist…who begins sending eerily insightful items far beyond Nella’s requests. In order to create the dollhouse, the production—which, unlike our titular miniaturist, was not in possession of supernatural or otherwise mysterious miniature-making skills—turned to Mulvany & Rogers, designers of one-twelfth scale bespoke miniatures and dollhouses. Working their own magic through historical research and replicating the props from the production, they produced numerous miniature items (the parakeet cage, a stringed lute) themselves, while commissioning other items from more specialized artisans, who created everything from tiny pastries to a hand-carved wooden cradle.
The Miniaturist‘s costumes—from lush gowns to drenched blacks to Rembrandt-evoking hats—were all the result of deep research into Dutch trade, religion, and society as portrayed in paintings by late Golden Age Dutch Masters, period household documents, and other resources from Dutch museum archives. 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—absolutely no zippers, no Velcro, and no polyester allowed! The principle behind the technique allows costumes to have their truly authentic fits and shapes, since they are made the way they were at the time, with the fabrics of the time. The Miniaturist, says Eatwell, “was pure pleasure to work on…Most of all we sought to share our joy in the period through the costumes that appear on screen.”