The Draughtsman's Contract

(1982)

The Draughtsman's Contract

This is a most intricately structured enigma of a film, one that seems on the surface to be ordinary, but underneath has many layers that need examining in detail from several viewings. The story is set in the English countryside in 1694. The prominent character is a draughtsman named Mr. Neville, who is asked by a lady named Mrs. Herbert to make twelve drawings of her house from different angles. He agrees, as long as he can have the lady for his intimate pleasure.

Mr. Neville is a perfectionist, and very meticulous in his drawings. He states to everyone at the house all his rules about everything that has to remain in the same place while he draws. The film moves along nicely, everything seems usual, then events start to become strange. Stone statues start to move around and take up different locations to contort into another static pose. Objects start to change location to confuse Mr. Neville in his drawings. Then Mrs. Herbert's daughter approaches Mr. Neville and tells him her father may have been murdered. She says she has evidence to indict Mr. Neville of his murder, and blackmails him, requesting his service for her sexual needs. Then Mr. Herbert's body is found in a ditch and things get even more complex.

This film is one of those that you need to watch and try and unravel yourself. To try to do that here in this review is almost impossible. I highly recommend it. It is exquisitely performed and filmed. The costumes are good. The speeches by the cast are delivered in a grandiose and statement-like manner. The music is appropriate. A classic piece of puzzling cinema that will have you watching it many times.

 

"What we have here is a tantalizing puzzle, wrapped in eroticism and presented with the utmost elegance. I have never seen a film quite like it. The raw materials of this story could have been fashioned into a bawdy romp like TOM JONES. But the director has made a canny choice. Instead of showing us everything, and explaining everything, he gives us the clues and allows us to draw our own conclusions. His movie is like a crossword puzzle for the senses." - Roger Ebert ****

"Greenaway's 17th century is a place of ribald honesty as well as unfathomable mystery, and it revels in the spoken word. Of course this is non-genre, low-budget cinema, and some people will be irritated by its singlemindedness; but for others it's proof that wit can sometimes carry a film to places special effects just don't reach." - David Pirie, Time Out

"The film is mannered and idiosyncratic; the speeches are so arch and twitty they seem to be pitched higher than a dog whistle, and the people talking are popinjays in perukes shaped as geometrically as the shrubs at Marienbad." - Pauline Kael 

"Best enjoyed as a sly piece of double bluff, a puzzle without a solution, an avant-garde hoax in the spirit of Dada and the surrealists." - Observer

"Astonishingly elegant… extraordinarily detailed… mind-bendingly rich. The Draughtsman's Contract is fun." - Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"Perhaps the four hour version which may one day become available is clearer if not more concise." - Guardian

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More images from the film

 

You can see Peter Greenaway's original

 116-page proposal to the BFI for the film here

The Draughtsman's Contract
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A mobile phone. An anachronism in the unreleased 4-hour version.

A mobile phone. An anachronism in the unreleased four-hour cut of the film, which Peter Greenaway (allegedly) watches by himself once a year, at the same time, on the same date.

 

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