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United Kingdom 1982
Directed by
Peter Greenaway
104 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Draughtsman's Contract

Writer/director Peter Greenaway’s first full-length feature established a marvellously contrived style that set him on an international arthouse career for the next 15 years making films of meretricious charm and artistic intertextuality, usually in collaboration with composer Michael Nyman, a formula that pretty much dried up in 1996 with The Pillow Book.Although it is difficult to follow through to its conclusion, The Draughtsman's Contract, a kind of highbrow Agatha Christie manor house murder is in many ways his best work.

Set in the summery English countryside amongst Jacobean aristocracy, it tells the story of Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a society artist who is hired by a wealthy estate owner's wife, Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman), to make 12 drawings of the estate as a gift for her negligent husband (Dave Hill) who has taken off to Sothhampton for a fortnight. In exchange he is to receive £8 per picture, bed and board, and Mrs Herbert’s favours as it so please him. When he is about half-way through the contract Mrs. Herbert’s pretty married daughter, Mrs. Talmann (Anne Louise Lambert, best known to Australian audiences as the star of Picnic At Hanging Rock, 1975) points out to him that his drawings suggest that foul play has taken place and that his drawings might implicate him. She strikes her own, similar contract and indeed Mr Herbert’s body is eventually found on the property.If one can more or less follow this so far what latterly occurs is far less clear as Mr Higgins departs, then returns to the property where he is duly murdered by Mrs Herbert’s foppish hangers-on.

Whilst the intentional obscurity might frustrate some, the sheer art-for-art’s sake elegance of a film that so well matches form and substance on what was a relatively small budget is an achievement to be applauded.

DVD Extras: Director’s commentary and introduction; interview with Michael Nyman; Behind-the-scenes footage; On-set interviews: Deleted scenes; a featurette on the film’s digital restoration; Theatrical trailers; Photo Gallery

Available in Umbrella Entertainment’s 8 disc box set that also includes A Zed & Two Noughts, Drowning By Numbers, Prospero’s  Books, The Baby Of Mâcon, The Pillow Book, 8 ½ Women and a 1992 documentary on the director and his work.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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