Drowning by Numbers

Drowning by Numbers (1988)


Drowning by Numbers

This is a picture that offers so much to the viewer. It is beautiful, but also, at times, grotesque. It is intriguing and complex, and covers a cornucopia of subjects. The film has an elegant Englishness about it. It is a film that always requires your attention and one that you will want to return to.

The story is about three women, all with the same name, Cissie Colpitts, each from different age groups, who have something in common, they each murder their husbands by drowning them. They escape punishment from this by consenting to the needs of an amorous coroner, Madgett. Madgett's young son, Smut, tells us about different games, each of them rather odd. The film has a wonderful surreal feel to it. For instance, a man and a woman on bicycles collide with two dead cows, but it hardly perturbs them. Throughout the film there are the numbers 1 to 100 placed in ascending order on display in some peculiar positions. It's a fascinating riddle.


"The bucolic vistas of East Anglia provide the backdrop to a story that smacks of Agatha Christie on LSD and a whiff of laughing gas, making this the director’s most English film since The Draughtsman's Contract." - Barbara Scharres

"Elegantly scored and luminously shot, it's a modernist black comedy filled with arcane, archaic and apocryphal lore, and hugely enjoyable." - Geoff Andrew, Time Out

"Intriguing and breathtakingly accomplished." - Evening Standard


Greenaway on the cinematography of Drowning by Numbers: 

"We brought massive amounts of artificial light into real, lit landscapes, into the flat open planes of East Anglia where you can't hide anywhere, where there's very few shadows. This often produced a surreal effect of trying to compete with God on his own lighting scheme. We sometimes had three suns in the sky, throwing three different sets of shadows." - Peter Greenaway

Greenaway on the themes and artistic influences of Drowning by Numbers

Click on image to see complete size

More images from the film

      Cissie Colpitts x 3


Drowning by Numbers
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Current Results

Drowning by Numbers DVD

Fear of Drowning

Number Locations


100 Stars







Kristie (Drew) Alshaibi

Britta Knöller


Peter Greenaway on the set of Drowning by Numbers

Peter Greenaway on the set of Drowning by Numbers



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92 Lists

92 Numbers