Filmed like a stage play with tableau shots and intricate lighting, and performed to the rafters, with driving music, a thousand pages of dialogue and a million times more profanity than the Korda movie.
Rembrandt is portrayed by a playful Martin Freeman. Saskia is alive until halfway through the movie, and Geertje and Hendrickje show up too, perverse and unrecognizable from the other movie (Geertje in particular is less forbidding, almost jolly in this one). Respectively, PG cast Eva Birthistle (Ae Fond Kiss, Breakfast on Pluto), Jodhi May (House of Mirth) and Emily Holmes (Snakes on a Plane) as Rem’s women.
Possibly there’s an angel on the roof, or perhaps it’s just Bob Kemp’s daughter. Maybe her name is Marieke. I get that there’s a huge conspiracy, that everyone in the movie knows about some sordid goings-on, that the cover-ups are ineffective and that Rembrandt is said to be exposing the misdeeds within details in his painting (definite shades of The Draughtsman’s Contract), but I have a hard time following all the specifics. There’s a flood of explanation at the end: one man is burning down houses for insurance, one runs an orphanage as a child brothel, one is manipulating tobacco prices, and one shot Hasselburg. The picture is usually dark around the edges, almost definitely in sympathy with The Night Watch, but I didn’t get any other art or history or story references because I am not cultured enough to appreciate Greenaway. It’s a common complaint, but I don’t hold it against P.G. – that he can make such a talky yet visually interesting film which actually makes me want to learn more about Rembrandt and 1600’s Dutch society is good enough.