Outside the Odeon West End is hardly a venue of choice on a particularly miserable October night but when Colin Firth is scheduled to make an appearance the (female) crowds will brave all manner of elemental hardships to catch a glimpse of the dapper star. Arriving for the gala of Girl With a Pearl Earring, Firth caused gridlock in the foyer as festival goers refused to leave the entrance hall until they had gawked themselves silly.
His co-star Scarlett Johansson followed Tuesday's Lost in Translation appearance with an encore for Peter Webber's film, which is based on Tracy Chevalier's best-selling novel. Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the imagined story behind Johannes Vermeer's best-loved artistic work. Johansson plays a girl forced into becoming a servant in the artist's household and soon becomes adept at assisting him in his studio. Their relationship begins to disrupt the running of his household however and becomes a risk to her own respectability.
"It's quite exciting and gives me the opportunity to wear two really nice dresses," said Johansson of her second festival gala. "I'm tired but I'm doing alright. I keep drinking a lot of your coffee. I've been here for three days and I haven't done anything but all this."
While much swooning and drooling carried on around her, Johansson was rather less reverent of her co-star's looks. "Did you see his hairy wig in the film? That gave me a lot of cause to make fun of him. He looked like an Oompa Loompa - very Fabio. "
Never one to hold a grudge, Firth was quick to lay on the praise for the young actress's performance in the film. "She's absolutely fantastic, she's one of the best actresses I've ever worked with," he declared. "Before I knew her I didn't expect such a mature performance because she was only 17. But you only have to know her for about half an hour and you start to realise that she's a very sophisticated, worldly person. "
Playing the famous artist, Firth was asked whether his own skill with the brush was something to shout about. "I think I put Vermeer to shame to be quite honest."