When Dollhouses Stop Being Toys: A Look At Why You Should Watch PBS’ The Miniaturist

by Rachel Bellwoar

A cabinet is many things but a wedding gift, from a husband to his wife, probably shouldn’t be one of them, yet if it weren’t for Johannes’ questionable choice in presents we wouldn’t have the mesmerizing, three-part miniseries, The Miniaturist, coming soon to PBS.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Alex Hassell
(C) The Forge/Laurence Cendrowicz for BBC and MASTERPIECE

Starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) and based on Jessie Burton’s novel of the same name, The Miniaturist takes place in Amsterdam towards the end of the 17th century and follows Petronella Brant, as she marries a man she barely knows (Alex Hassell) to help her family get out of financial straits.

The cabinet Petronella is given isn’t for pots or pans, but figurines, like an adult dollhouse. Designed for the show by craftsmen at Mulvany & Rogers, each room is a replica of a room in the Brandt home, and Johannes says she can purchase miniatures to fill it.

Beneath that kind invitation is the suggestion that Nella will be wanting for things to occupy her time and it’s not untrue. Johannes’ pious sister, Marin (Romola Gara), doesn’t want to give up control of the household and both the manservant, Otto (Paapa Essiedu) and maid, Cornelia, (Hayley Squires), seem awfully determined to keep tabs on Nella, for employees under her charge. When he’s not evading Nella’s attempts to consummate the marriage, Johannes is away on business, so Nella contacts a miniaturist. That’s what she’s been left to do, but when the miniaturist starts sending Nella items she didn’t order – items that indicate a knowledge of the home they shouldn’t have – it’s another strange facet to Nella’s married life that makes for magical television.

While period dramas aren’t unusual fare for Masterpiece, Burton’s story stands out for being written recently, in 2014, and for the supernatural mystery of the miniatures. Each new package prompts a brawl of emotions: fear at their accuracy, awe at their beauty, and excitement at the secrets they unveil. Is the miniaturist watching Nella? Are they friend or foe, and what about the details that seem prescient of the future?

Their meaning may be unclear, but a package in the post is still a package in the post, and when you’re dealing with characters that are as inscrutable as their miniatures, you can’t help but be enthralled.

Here’s an official trailer for the show:

The Miniaturist premieres SundaySeptember 9th at 9 PM on PBS Masterpiece.

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