AKA: Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Year Released: 2003
Distributor: Hallmark/Family Home Entertainment/Artisan
Running Time: 101 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Valley of Light, The Impressionists, The Blackwater Lightship, Pictures of Hollis Woods
-Feel free to check out Sally Silverscreen’s blog 18 Cinema Lane! Special thanks for inspiring me to review Brush With Fate.
-Brush With Fate is actually based on a novel called “Girl in Hyacinth Blue” by the late Susan Vreeland. This author was born in Racine, WI and her other works of fiction involve real life painters with The Passion of Artemisia being loosely based on Artemisia Gentileschi and The Forest Lover being an inspired story on Emily Carr.
-The Girl in Hyacinth Blue isn’t a real painting from Johannes Vermeer. It was actually painted by an artist/Vermeer enthusiast by the name of Jonathan Janson. I have seen Vermeer’s other works, and the painting in the movie can easily pass for that Dutch artist’s portfolio. Consider this a literal case of fan art for the sake of fiction.
-Disney Fan Bonus: Two of the actresses in this movie have played Disney characters. Ready for it? Cornelia is portrayed by Glenn Close who played the live action version of Cruella De Vil in the 101 Dalmatian remakes as well as voicing the character Kala in the Tarzan movies. This would make her the second person to play that evil fashionista on my blog after Susanne Blakeslee (See the English dub of My Life as a Zucchini) who voiced her in 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure as well as the fifth person to have played a Disney villain in something I reviewed. The overly superstitious Aletta is played by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald who would eventually voice Merida in Brave nine years later. This would make her the first Disney Princess (semantics aside with it being a Pixar movie) and if you count the cameo in Wreck-It-Ralph 2, she’s the second person after John C. Reilly (Ralph himself) in my review of When Marnie Was There who has been in that franchise.
-Brush With Fate is directed by Hallmark regular Brent Shields. Some of his other work involves A Smile as Big as the Moon, Firelight, Just In Time for Christmas, and Durango to name a few.
-Johannes Vermeer was from Delft, Netherlands (then the Dutch Republic) who lived from 1632 to 1675. He made 50 paintings, yet only 34 of them are still in existence to this day.
-One of the flashbacks takes place in Vreeland, Netherlands. It is a very small rural town with just over 1500 people living there. Despite the small size, it hosts a Michelin Star-ranked (Yes, the tire company also has a stake in high quality gastronomy grading) restaurant called De Nederlanden.
I never thought this would actually happen on this blog, but this actually happened. I got to watch and review a freaking Hallmark movie of all things. Some of you are probably chuckling as one would point out how incongruous it is for a movie associated with that stationery company would be featured on this blog, and I can understand why. Hallmark movies and TV shows have gotten a reputation of being soft family friendly entertainment, having a penchant for Christmas movies, and being things that typically older people would watch. Even my Grammy (Rest In Peace) told me that she would watch some of those movies, but admitted a number of them were boring. After a chance encounter interacting with Sally Silverscreen, my eyes were opened up to how vast their catalog was and how there are films which actually have effort as well as substance in them. I consider her to be a resident expert on Hallmark projects, so definitely check out her page to find out which ones to watch or avoid. That’s not the only thing she reviews though. I mean, both of us have even reviewed the Ghibli film From Up on Poppy Hill, so check out her thoughts of that anime film here. Sally, if you’re reading this, I secretly planned on reviewing a Hallmark movie this year even if it wasn’t an official goal.
Okay, Hallmark. I finally got to see something from your hall of fame. Show me what you got.
Brush With Fate takes place at an upscale art prep school in Massachusetts. There’s a new teacher who got hired named Richard who’s getting used to working at this new school. When he’s not teaching or grading art projects, he paints himself. There’s a co-worker named Cornelia Englebrecht who teaches European history. She’s highly eccentric as well as being critical of the art of others. When Cornelia discovers Richard’s labors of love, she invites him to her house where she possesses the obscure Girl in Hyacinth Blue painting by Johanness Vermeer. Richard is impressed, but he wonders if it’s authentic. She carries several documents and further proves the painting is real by telling numerous stories in Vermeer’s native Netherlands which envelop into multiple flashbacks dating back to the 1700s and 1800s with people who obtained this mysterious painting. What is the mystery hidden in Girl in Hyancinth Blue? Why is Cornelia so attached to that painting and does her family have a secret connection to it of sorts?
I can’t lie to you, choosing a Hallmark movie was pretty hard as some looked extremely cheesy to me. Brush With Fate does have a story I can take seriously which certainly helps. I do have an appreciation of art and the story behind this painting certainly came off as believable despite the work being fictional. I did get some vibes from the BBC mini-series The Impressionists with a mix between the art and the drama there. There were some strong cases of acting there. Glenn Close really nailed it as Cornelia. Her delivery of being strict, yet socially awkward was on point, her body language, and mannerisms were amazing in portraying this mysterious and eccentric history teacher. I was even surprised to see actors and actresses who have worked on major projects. You had Thomas Gibson (Dharma & Greg, Chicago Hope, and Criminal Minds), Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist, The Last Picture Show, Reqiuem for a Dream), and Katja Herbers (Westworld, Manhattan, and Evil) to name a few. Many of them certainly knew what they were doing. The cinematography felt more like a movie in the theaters as opposed to a made-for-TV movie which is a complement as it didn’t have that vibe. It didn’t need too many flashy effects, but there was enough effort in the budget and set design to set it apart from other movies of that ilk. The storytelling with the constant flashbacks did get interesting as it went back centuries, then decades before, and then resetting to the 40s in the final act. There was a clear connection between these events that were told in reverse in a non-pretentious way and there were some twists I didn’t see coming which was very nice. There was a purpose and not there to be avant-garde (ironic since I love experimental films and series) as to lose the general audience. While Brush With Fate is still fine for families, there were elements of the plot that get dark, but there was a healthy balance to everything without becoming too morose except for a couple of plot points to use very mature themes.
Unfortunately, Brush With Fate does miss a few strokes here and there. The first complaint I had was with Richard being such a non-character. Besides him painting in his spare time, he doesn’t have a personality and he’s just a spectator in this story. All the other characters in the flashbacks were way more fascinating to watch than him regardless if I liked them or not. Some parts of the production did have some of that Hallmark cheese such as some choppy slow-mo during the flood scenes in one flashback and the symphonic music was too schmaltzy as well as generic. Another thing about the soundtrack, the usage of Celtic sounds came off as incongruous since most of the movie takes place in the Netherlands (via flashbacks) and they sounded like outtakes from the Titanic soundtrack which isn’t a good sign. One minor complaint I have was the brief mentioning of Aletta pretending to scare people by claiming African ghosts are around. Seriously? There was also fridge horror with someone mentioning about going to “the Dark Continent” (See: Dutch occupation of South Africa). I also thought multiple accents were lazy or laughable. Okay, they did get some Dutch actors for some of the flashbacks, but so many sounded either British, American, or Scandinavian. Even some of the Dutch actors were trying to sound American than Dutch when speaking English which was bizarre. The non-Dutch actors had their accents slip in and out which was noticeable to me. Kelly Macdonald’s accent totally didn’t sound like it came from the Netherlands and I don’t know what European accent she sounded like in playing Aletta. Some aspects got too dark which shocked me. Without going into too much detail, they actually went with an infanticide angle which was very disturbing even though it was done in a PG-way or the revelation of Cornelia’s invalid father’s past had lots of fridge horror to it once the flashback plays near the end. Trust me, you will be very uncomfortable once that revelation is unveiled especially when people like him would usually go to the Netherlands even at that age, but not because of a vacation if you know what I’m implying.
Brush With Fate was a decent entry in film, but nothing too spectacular. It was competently shot and there was some good acting from multiple actors. The narrative was creative with the usage of linking flashbacks separating everything by centuries in a believable manner. However, some of the phony accents and Richard being a non-factor in this story despite being one of the main characters did turn me off. Some of the cheesiness does seep in as well. Brush With Fate does avoid some pitfalls associated with Hallmark movies and their reputation, but it didn’t lead to something that I would call a masterpiece though.
Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you love Hallmark dramas.
-Add 1 point if you like Johannes Vermeer as an artist.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you like more agency from main characters.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you like artsier dramas (not talking about paintings).
-Superb acting from multiple characters
-Creative usages of multiple flashbacks
-Fake Dutch accents are aggravating
-Some storylines can be too morbid
-Richard is a meaningless protagonist and a blank slate
Final Score: 6/10 points
Content Advisory: Brush With Fate is a Hallmark movie, so don’t expect it to be hardcore. There’s some drinking and smoking, but those scenes are extremely brief. Some characters die due to flooding, one character gets executed by hanging, some pigeons are killed by a girl, and a baby is murdered off-screen before being buried in a shallow grave. There’s some violence and blood in different scenes. There are mature themes involving poverty, religion, childbirth out of wedlock, witchcraft, torture, and even the Holocaust becomes a plot point later on despite the genocide not being seen. Other than that, there’s no sexuality, swearing, or gore.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Brush With Fate is property of Hallmark, Family Home Entertainment, and Artisan. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Hallmark, Family Home Entertainment, and Artisan.