The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982, Peter Greenaway)

It has some drowning, and some numbers, but I guess Greenaway hadn’t ramped up to his full obsession with categorizing and enumerating things (or perhaps he was taking a break – I haven’t seen earlier feature The Falls yet). Fox Lorber did a lousy job with the DVD, but some of the nice candlelight photography and PG-esque controlled compositions came through. I enjoyed it, though it’s not as sneaky a mystery or as delightful a script as it thinks.

Neville with Mrs. Herbert:

Mr. Neville is the titular draughtsman, hired to draw architectural sketches of the Herbert gardens while the master is away. But will the master ever return, or has he met with misadventure? As part of Neville’s fee, he gets to have his way with Mrs. Herbert, while her daughter makes a separate sexual agreement with Neville, suspected by her snobbish German husband Mr. Talmann. Any sense of suspense fizzles out as everything becomes increasingly obvious (young Mrs. Talmann is trying to get Neville to father her child, since her husband is impotent – and yes, Mr. Herbert has been killed). Everyone is trying to frame everyone else, but the grand loser is Neville, set upon at the end by the society types, who cut out his eyes then drown him in the same pool where Herbert was found.

Mr. and Mrs. Talmann:

As usual with British period society comedies, most of the fun is in the bitchy cleverness of the sniping dialogue. Not the only movie Greenaway has made about finding murderous evidence in a painting – isn’t that what the recent Nightwatching & Rembrandt J’Accuse were about? Perhaps PG was traumatized by a youthful viewing of Blow-Up. I also liked the camoflaged naked guy creeping around the garden (doesn’t seem like a realistic occupation – maybe he is independently wealthy)

The director would go on to bigger and better things, but his cast would not. Neville was Anthony Higgins (Merchant/Ivory’s Quartet), currently in something called Malice in Wonderland. Mr. Talmann (my favorite for most naturally wearing the ludicrous period clothes/wigs) was Hugh Fraser, not German at all, appears in Agatha Christie TV series. His wife: Anne-Louise Lambert (Picnic at Hanging Rock), her mother: Janet Suzman (apartheid movie A Dry White Season), and the wicked estate lawyer who works out the contracts was Neil Cunningham of Jarman’s The Tempest.

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