Vermeer – the greatest exhibition

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Documentary

Availability: At theatres

Storyline: The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is currently exhibiting the most comprehensive retrospective of paintings by Johannes Vermeer, one of the great 17th century Dutch masters. Hailed as ‘a miracle’ by The Guardian and ‘breathtaking’ by The Times, the exhibition and the gallery itself is magnificent. But before you book your flights, I’m afraid it’s been sold-out for months. But there is good news – this documentary of the exhibition is almost like being there. It is one of an increasing number of documentaries by ‘Exhibitions on Screen’ that enable us to see major art exhibitions at the very time visitors are seeing them. They are first released in theatres, and then later made available as a fee-based streaming option ( The Vermeer documentary brings to the screen his most famous masterpieces, along with insightful analysis from experts associated with the Rijksmuseum.

Film-craft: Vermeer died in financial hardship at the age of 43, leaving no diaries, letters or documents to help the filmmaker build a broader picture of the artist and his life. So what director David Bickerstaff has done in this film is to provide an unhurried opportunity to look long and hard at the artworks themselves and through that contemplative experience better understand the artist himself. The result is satisfying and highly effective. 

Cast: Robert Lindsay is the narrator of the the documentary but it is the experts, including the staff of the Rijksmuseum, whose vast knowledge, expertise, and passion brings the stories within the paintings to life.  

Personal Comments:  This splendid production gives us a glimpse into the world of Rijksmuseum and the curation of the outstanding Vermeer exhibition. The gallery is beautiful, and the paintings are sublime in their depiction of light and colour. The Times calls this documentary ‘thrilling…your ticket to the show of the century’, which is high praise indeed. It is a must-see for art-lovers. In fact I think I might even prefer the leisurely, exquisitely presented and expertly informed film experience of the exhibition to the crowded, continuous herds of humanity peering over the heads of the people in front…but then perhaps I’m just getting old.  

Derry Girls

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Sitcom – Miniseries

Availability: Netflix

Storyline: Set in Northern Ireland during the final years of ‘The Troubles’, Derry Girls follows the capers of five young people attending the all-girls Catholic school, Our Lady Immaculate College in the city of Derry. Four teenage girls, cousins Erin and Orla and besties Clare and Michelle, cause havoc in the school with their harebrained antics. Adding to the mix they are soon joined by the much put-upon James, Michelle’s cousin, and the first boy to be enrolled in the school. But for all their lunatic teenage schemes, they can’t get the better of the subversively formidable Sister Michael who rules the school in a one-woman dictatorship.  

Film-craft: Created by Northern Ireland playwright Lisa McGhee, Derry Girls makes effective use of archival news footage of historic events in Northern Ireland at the time of ‘The Troubles’, for example, the IRA calling for a ceasefire, and the Good Friday Agreement referendum. These momentous events are woven with the farcical antics of the teenagers, who are more concerned by the confiscation of a lipstick…although to be fair, it was a discontinued colour. This juxtaposition provides a glimpse into life at the time of ‘The Troubles’, the violence and real-life drama of pivotal events in history and the separate yet connected domestic dramas and concerns of teenagers whose lives are challenged and shaped by these political events. The interplay is clever, serious, and funny.

Cast: While the performances are universally outstanding in Derry Girls, the female actors are the most remarkable. The escapades of the teenagers drive the action and in the lead Saoirse-Monica Jackson as Erin and Louisa Harland, as her other worldly cousin Orla, are terrific. Jackson in particular captures the changing teenage expressions of absolute confidence and cringing self-consciousness perfectly. Jamie-Lee O’Donnell brings an earthy strength to the role of the stroppy, risk-taking teenager Michelle. But my favourite has to be Nicola Coughlan as Clare. When faced by authority her hilarious shifts from unyielding defender of rights to grovelling capitulations are nothing short of brilliant. The rest of the cast are equally outstanding – Tara Lynn O’Neill as Erin’s mammy and Kathy Kiera Clark as Sarah her dissociated new-age aunt are wonderful foils for each other. Lastly, the all-powerful Sister Michael has some of the best lines in the series, and Siobhan McSweeney carries them off with aplomb. 

Personal Comments: Despite being encouraged to review Derry Girls, I have come late to the series. This is partly because I’ve never been a great fan of coming-of-age stories. But I have to admit, this one is a gem. It’s not perfect. It can be pretty silly in places and sometimes the humour falls flat. But when it’s witty it’s brilliantly witty. Many of you will have already seen the series. But if you haven’t, in a post-Brexit world as current debate about Irish unity strengthens, with Joe Biden’s recent visit to Ireland, and with bombings reoccurring in Derry, now might be the perfect time to take a look.