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The Draughtsman's Contract
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Draughtsman's Contract More at IMDbPro »

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

"The maturing delights of her country garden"

Author: Ali_Catterall from London, England
26 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the late 17th century a pompous and avaricious draughtsman, Mr Neville (Higgins), is hired by Mrs Herbet (Suzman) to sketch her husband's opulent manor (situated in Groombridge Place, in Kent) from differing viewpoints. In return, he demands an extravagant fee, use of their lodgings - and Mrs Herbert's sexual favours ("the maturing delights of her country garden").

After getting entangled with Mrs Herbet's daughter, Mrs Talmann (a chilly Lambert), the exploiter becomes the exploited. Neville belatedly realises his employer's dark ulterior motive: to further the Herbert bloodline, and take the rap for the murder of Mr Herbet, the clues to which have apparently been revealed through his seemingly innocuous sketches. "Brilliant and archly humoured", said the Guardian; "a load of posturing poo-poo" according to fellow director Alan Parker. Which is it to be? Like much of Antonioni's canon, Greenaway's sour little truffles aren't exactly the warmest, most emotive of items, substituting cerebral and technical flair over the ability to make an audience laugh, cry, and generally punch the air and whoop for joy. Accordingly, most criticism of Greenaway's first feature (a transparent reworking of the aforementioned director's Blow Up in theme and execution) focused on The Draughtman's Contract's determinedly detached and studiously mannered quality - though rightly acknowledging the sumptuous photography, Michael Nyman's pounding score, borrowed from Purcell, and the wonderfully arch and playful script (triple-layered and authentically earthy by turn).

Greenaway apologists will recognise the director's favoured themes of sex, death, female power play, and moral and physical decay (the latter most noticeable in the saturated cinematography, indicating all is far from stable in this Jacobean paradise). Newcomers may either be irritated beyond belief, or intrigued by what is essentially a philosophical meditation on fertility rites, the transient nature of perception, and class exploitation. Either way, it's an unforgettable experience.

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7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Rich, tart and amusing art-house thriller

Author: Framescourer from London, UK
27 November 2006

This film should really be a 4 star triumph. Almost the entire film is constituted of still-framed shots on location, optimising and occasionally irrespective of the weather conditions. The acting is brilliant; stylised, sure, but always engaging and intriguing. The script is an object lesson in exposition and narrative through convincing dialogue. Crucially the whole thing is endlessly amusing, witty, startling, suggestive and naughty.

There's a problem. Mindful of its aesthetic, it's static and relies on the highly wrought script too much. The vernacular (another seamlessly incorporated feature of the writing) intensifies its density... consequently I found it difficult to follow in the detail it probably deserved. Not as tense, nor as sexy a piece as The Cook etc. but funnier. 6/10

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

My brief review of the film

Author: sol- from Perth, Australia
10 October 2005

A bizarre, quite unique period film, it is full of odd occurrences and it is technically quite well made, however the product is less than satisfying overall. Some of the dialogue is just rambling, and towards the end I really felt that this bogged down the production, despite some funny lines in the mix. The characters come off as rather cold, and some sequences in the film are not really explained properly. But is this confused and unwelcoming atmosphere what Greenaway intended? It might well be, even if knowing that does not help fix the uneasiness that one might feel when watching it. But enough of the 'bad', for the film has some great aspects too. Michael Nyman composes some wonderful music to fit alongside the action, the sets and costumes are flashy and eye-catching, and Greenaway particularly pays attention to giving the material a unique feel with the lighting design. It is an unusual film, and that makes it fascinating. Not the best out there, and from its director I prefer 'A Zed and Two Noughts', however this one is still worth a look.

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The Draughtman's Contract

Author: Jackson Booth-Millard from United Kingdom
13 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the directorial debut of Peter Greenaway (Drowning by Numbers; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, The Pillow Book), and I found it listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I hoped it would deserve five stars out of five as critics rated it. Basically set in rural Wiltshire, England in 1694, young and arrogant artist Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), also something of a romantic hero, is contracted by Mrs. Virginia Herbert (Janet Suzman) to produce 12 landscape drawings of the estate of her absent and estranged husband Mr. Herbert (Dave Hill). Part of the contract agreement is to meet with Mr. Neville in private, and to comply with his requests for the purposes of drawing, such as when servants and residents will not be present and obstructions will be removed during his sketching. Also Mr. Neville's contract agreement includes his pleasure, several sexual encounters follow between him and Mrs. Herbert, emphasising reluctance or distress for Mrs. Herbert, and showing the sexual aggression or insensitivity of Mr. Neville, while living on the estate he also gains a reputation with its dwellers, especially with Mr. Talmann (Hugh Fraser), Mrs. Herbert's son-in-law. Mrs. Herbert exhausted by meeting Mr. Neville to give him pleasure tries to terminate the contract before all drawings are completed, but the draughtsman refuses to stop and void the contract, he continues as before. Then Mr. Neville seems to be blackmailed into making a second contract by Mrs. Herbert's married but as yet childless daughter Mrs. Talmann (Anne-Louise Lambert), she has become attracted to him and he agrees to satisfy her pleasure, as opposed to his own. A number of curious objects appear in Mr. Neville's drawings, ultimately pointing to the murder of Mr. Herbert, who is found dead in the moat, the twelve drawings are completed, but Mr. Neville returns for an unlucky thirteenth drawing. While apparently completing the final drawing, Mr. Neville is approached by a masked stranger, obviously Mr. Talmann in disguise, he is joined by Mr. Thomas Noyes (Neil Cunningham), Mr. Seymour (David Gant) and eccentric landowner twins the Poulencs (Octopussy's David and Tony Meyer). The company accuses Mr. Neville of the murder of Mr. Herbert, as the drawings can be interpreted as evidence seeing more than one illegal act, he defensively denies these accusations, he is asked to remove his hat, which he does so mockingly, that is when they hit him on the head, burn out his eyes, club him to death, and throw his body into the moat where Mr. Herbert's body was found. Also starring Lynda La Plante as Mrs. Clement and Michael Feast as The Statue. Higgins gives a great performance as the arrogant artist paid in sexual favours, the aristocratic 17th century world looks authentic with great costumes and the beautiful estate, the drawing scenes are interesting, the sexual scenes are good, and the murder plot towards, with the drawings becoming witness evidence, is intriguing, also with great use of minimalist music by Michael Nyman that fit the remarkable visuals, and a witty script, it is a fantastic period drama. Very good!

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A Short Review

Author: Robcamstone from United Kingdom
13 November 2013

A Peter Greenaway film that works on so many levels and for me at least, shows a developmental of Greenaway's work as there are scenes in it which remind me of his early works.

We start with "H is for House", & then when we see the draughtsman's sketches up close some of them could be maps for "A Walk Through H" some of the scenes are almost static & remind me of "Vertical Features Remake". Throughout the film the conversation is more like a narrative at times, like a number of his early works.

I love the narrative of "Water Wrackets".

Then there is the score which moves the film to an even higher level.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

"The arty - farty posing as art"

Author: ianlouisiana from United Kingdom
28 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I saw this back in the eighties one member of the sparse audience (not comprising of clever - clever critics,rather mystified filmgoers who had actually paid good money)shouted "What b*ll*cks!"at the screen and stumped out with his equally outraged companion who obliged with a loud raspberry. They had lasted a bum - numbing 40 minutes,enduring the arty - farty posing as art that Mr Greenaway had forced upon them,no doubt hoping to "improve" their narrow,blinkered,provincial middle - class lives by showing the narrow,blinkered,provincial lives of the 18th century English aristocracy as he conceived them. I know we Brits are to supposed to love this sort of arrant nonsense because,after all,we virtually invented intellectual snobbery,and nothing pleases the chattering classes more than that feeling of superiority that ensues from their declared enjoyment of something so clearly b*ll*cks that the lumpen proletariat reject it out of hand.

I've now endured this tiresome film three times hoping to "unlock its mystery"as one of my more intellectually - gifted chums puts it. But it still goes way above my head. It's tedious and phoney and,frankly,up its own bottom. In my opinion,that disgruntled moviegoer thirty - odd years ago hit the nail on the head.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Mischief of obscure meanings

Author: chaos-rampant from Greece
28 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is like a chestbox full of fantastical treasures, most of them pertaining to image and meaning. An amazingly rich film upon which to ponder cinematically on the hidden realities of the frame.

We have the sketch artist at the centre of this, the man commissioned to represent reality. By this whim, he has the ability to empty the landscape of people or place them within it as he sees fit, which is to say the world he sketches is a replica born in the mind. What starts by this process as representation inadvertently becomes creation.

But there is more to it. Within his image and unbeknownst to him, find their way various shadowy allegories which may be simple pictorial conceits or keys to a sinister plot involving murder and worse. By having sketched these anomalies of perception, the things that shouldn't be where they are, he becomes complicit in their implied meaning.

The most fascinating thing about all of this, is that the film is perfectly aware of everything that transpires in it. It knows and points out that it does as meant to entangle itself in the folds of this so that it can be disentagled again.

Tantalizing double entendres (some of the best in film) among politely aggressive dinner companies, an animate statue who unsuccessfully tries to mingle with the routine, sexual inappropriateness as contractual obligation, all these humorous or deviant stratagems mirror the effects of duplicitous meanings.

Each of these elements merits a film of its own, Greenaway however weaves them together in a ribald pastiche. Of the pastiche itself I'm not too sure, whether the whole adds or subtracts upon the individual meanings, but it's an enjoyable one.

All you need to make cinema in my opinion is not story or characters but a point of view (and of course the view to which it points). Two forms of consciousness, one which is the cinematic representation and the other the navigation within it. This one has several, each working upon the others to make them equally possible or equally moot.

By the end of this, Greenaway rather fatalistically shows us the destruction of both creator and creation. At the hands of a spoiled plutocracy no less.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

"Picturesque and intriguing mystery..."

Author: Sindre Kaspersen from Norway
27 April 2012

Welsh-born British screenwriter, painter and director Peter Greenaway's second feature film which he wrote, is a British production which was shot on various locations at the Groombridge Place in Kent, England and produced by David Payne. It tells the story about Mr. Neville, a contemptuous young artist who comes to a mansion in the English countryside owned by Mr. Herbert who lives there with his wife Mrs. Virginia Herbert, her daughter Mr. Talmann and the daughter's husband Mr. Talmann. Mr. Neville has been hired by Mrs. Herbert to produce a series of twelve landscape drawings for her estranged husband, but in one part of their contract Mr. Neville has made a demand that Mrs. Herbert meets him in private whenever he wants to and fulfils his requests. Mr. Neville is granted his wishes by Mrs. Herbert after having started on the drawings, but as time goes by he gains a bad reputation amongst the residents and becomes such a burden to Mrs. Herbert that she decides to put an end to the contract. When Mr. Neville makes it clear that he is not willing to annul the agreement, Mrs. Herbert's daughter tries to blackmail him into signing a new contract where he is the one that has to abide her requests.

Acutely and precisely directed by experimental filmmaker Peter Greenaway, this surreal and unconventional period piece which is set in England in 1694 during the coregency of the Kingdoms of Ireland, England and Scotland, draws a variegated portrayal of an unorthodox contract that gradually instigates a deceitful game driven by power, sex, and gender issues. While notable for it's colorful milieu depictions, fine art direction by English costume designer Bob Ringwood, cinematography by American cinematographer Curtis Clark and costume design by English costume designer Sue Blane, this dialog-driven and plot-driven fictional tale contains a remarkable score by the director's frequent collaborator, British pianist and composer Michael Nyman which emphasizes it's mystifying atmosphere.

This rhythmic, sarcastically humorous, erotic, somewhat overstated and inventive 17th century social-satire is impelled and reinforced by it's quick-witted dialog, cogent narrative structure and the splendid acting performances by English actor Anthony Higgins, South African-born British actress and director Janet Suzman and Australian actress Anne Louise Lambert. A detailed, picturesque and intriguing mystery which gained a nomination for the International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film at the 4th Fantasport International Film Festival in 1984.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Frustrating yet delightful

Author: paul2001sw-1 ( from Saffron Walden, UK
24 September 2011

Peter Greenaway's films have characteristic features: beautiful aesthetics, Michael Nyman scores, grotesquely humorous plots. His first film shows his gifts came fully formed: 'The Draughstman's Contract' is a bizarre costume drama that displays all of his talent, while, at the same time, being arguably about nothing. Greenaway's films really are pure cinema: his interest in what he can do with the form exceeds any external message, and there's no attempt to hide the the sense of artistic experiment. They're an acquired taste, but in an age of identikit blockbusters, his strange combination of imagery, originality and plain silliness weaves a magic all of its own.

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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Lush and lovely, but ultimately a cheat

Author: willie-14 from Houston
10 June 1999

When first I saw this film, I felt that I had missed a detail by the end of the story. I rented it again a few years later and had the same feeling. By chance I met the costume designer a while back. She informed me that Greenaway edited out a pivotal scene towards the end of the movie, which filled in the gap in the plot.

Aside from this egregious edit, this is a lush and sumptuous film, one of Greenaway's best. A puzzle with a few pieces missing, but quite a lovely picture when (almost) completed.

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