The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) Poster

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Extraordinary, beautiful, puzzling and disturbing.
catfish15 November 1998
A most extraordinary film. A fascinating study of manipulation and murder, of sex, power and the abuse of sex and power. This is not always an easy film to like, it has a coldly clinical approach to its subject and protagonists which produces an intentionally distancing effect.

In one scene, the Draughtsman invites the Lady of the House to examine a painting, owned by her husband, in which a complex allegory appears to be being acted out. I see this as an analogy for the film as a whole - it is an arch, stylised, intelligent and beautiful puzzle (a murder-mystery) in which the audience is encouraged to consider the motives and objectives of the characters, but from which many important clues appear to have been deliberately removed.

This might all sound frustrating, but I find the film endlessly intriguing and entertaining. It's like a very clever and stunningly photographed Agatha Christie mystery, but without an annoying sleuth who comes along at the end and solves everything "oh-so-neatly".

The photography is exemplary (the cinematographer, Curtis Clark, seems to have done little else of note), with the camera hardly moving at all, except for an occasional tracking shot. The Kent countryside used to maximum effect, and the costumes are sumptuous (especially the wigs!). The music is also superb, with Michael Nyman producing probably his finest score.

An engaging, puzzling, visually stunning and, ultimately, rather disturbing film.
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An eye for optical theory
TOMBALL17 April 2001
In this much criticised and often misunderstood movie, Greenaway brings us a rich, allegorical riddle that luxuriates in its idyllic restoration setting. It succeeds on its own merits even if the story may confuse the viewer at first, the sheer pun and wit of the script and extravagant use of costume and visual gag see to that. We have enormous wigs, living statues that really pee, an indulgence of fruit, erotic interludes and a general celebration of pleasure. Behind this is a brilliantly constructed story that can be appreciated on a number of different levels. We have an 'Agatha Christie' style country house murder mystery, an investigation of class and religious opposition at the end of the 17th century, a philosphical study of the problem of artists' perception of the world (is what we 'see' what we actually perceive it to be?).

At root though, Greenaway knows his mythology and understands the role of the fertility rite across societies and cultures. In this allegory, Mrs Herbert persuades the Draughtsman (Mr. Neville) to draw her husband's estate, sexual favours being the lure. The drawings are merely a front for a deeper and darker motive: ensuring that the matrimonial line will produce the heir to the country estate. The line is blocked by lack of a direct heir, the infertility of Mrs. Herbert's son in law and the fact that women cannot inherit the property. Evidence of Mr Neville's indiscretion eventually emerges in the 12 drawings for all to see -discarded clothing, ladders leading up to bedrooms- all rendered faithfully by the draughtsman who tries 'never to distort, nor dissemble' what he sees through his optical device. In so doing, he seals his fate. Mrs Herbert ensures that blame for both the death of her husband and adultery of her daughter is put on Neville. By the end of the movie he (and his drawings) are redundant, since we can assume he has borne the heir.

In ancient Greece, the Gods ruled the seasons and the fertility of the land. Here, Mrs Herbert draws the link between those times and her role as the real custodian of the 'fertility' of her husband's estate. Watch for the scene near the end when she places the pomegranate on Neville's stomach. The women are in control throughout, the men mere bit players, the drones and worker bees. Watch and listen with care! This is a film that repays many viewings. 'There is much there to be surprised at, and applauded!!'.
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Master's Smile
Galina20 January 2005
The first Peter Greenaway's feature "The Draughtsman's Contract" (1982) - is absolutely delightful, devilishly clever (just imagine the best Agatha Christy's mystery with all sorts of clues and suspects but without Poirot or Ms. Maple to explain in the end whodunit and why. You are on your own to try to figure out - everything you need to know is right there), and funny (Yes, Greenaway can be funny!) art film - the perfect example of an art film. It combines the elements of social satire with murder mystery, meditates on the power of art and role of an artist, studies family drama and mothers – daughters love and understanding, perfectly wraps it in sensual pleasure - and what the pleasure it is. I know I will watch it again because it is a feast for eyes (I've seen big budget movies that looked plain comparing to this one shot on the limited funds), ears (Michael Nyman wrote one of the best score ever for this film) and for brain - there are mysteries and puzzles in every frame and in every dialog.

There is couple of Greenaway's thoughts on his first film and on the films that influenced him from the interview that was published in L'Avant-Scene Cinema", No 333, October 1984:

"Majority of my films may be viewed on several levels. Thus, in "The Draughtsman's Contract" there was the desire to open the symbolism of plants and fruits, to study the connections between the aristocrats and the common people, the conflicts between the worlds of gentlemen and of servants. With my films, I hope to generate interest, to stimulate imagination, to wake feelings...

I consider that 90% of my films one way or another refers to paintings. "Contract" quite openly refers to Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour and other French and Italian artists...

Before the work on the film began, I did not explain to film crew what I wanted, but I showed them five European films: "Fellini's Casanova", "The Last Tango in Paris" by Bertolucci, "The Marquise of O" by Eric Rohmer, "Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach" by Jean-Marie Straub and, most importantly, "Last Year at Marienbad" by Alain Resnais which has been the most influential film for me."
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Witty and intelligent multi-layered delight
Filmtribute18 June 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This very witty and intelligent film is structured on many layers, full of intrigue and double meanings. The style is as a Restoration mystery but it also discusses the value of art and men's attitude to women with some excellent damning put downs of both sexes. The religious, political and social issues of 1694 (the dawn of the Age of Reason) are examined and the chauvinism of the time is expressed by Mrs Talmann (Anne Louise Lambert) who acidly chides her father for cataloging her mother as the least of his assets: `a house, a garden, a horse, a wife, the preferential order'.

An arrogant draughtsman (Mr Neville, played with suitable conceit by Anthony Higgins) is commissioned by Mrs Herbert (Janet Suzman) to sketch 12 drawings of her husband's house and gardens in exchange for reluctant sexual favours. The precise orders of the draughtsman are thwarted and misplaced objects start to appear in the etchings, as he is a stickler for detail and will persist in depicting exactly what he sees (`I try very hard never to distort or to dissemble'). Mr Neville soon becomes embroiled in the strange goings on in the garden, and the political and sexual machinations of Mr Herbert's friends and family. Mr Talmann (a wonderfully priggish Hugh Fraser, unrecognisable as Hastings in ITV's dramatisations of Agatha Christie's Poirot) is persuaded that the drawings are evidence of a physical liaison between his wife and the draughtsman, whilst she illustrates the more sinister interpretation of witness to the murder of her father. Ultimately the women are shown to have had the upper hand and Mr Neville to have been a mere pawn in their schematics, with his fulfilment of their true purpose to sire an heir.

The film demands repeated viewing to pick up on its nuances and to see other perspectives, and I particularly appreciated the exploration of what we see may not be what it seems. There are plenty of visual treats including a colourfully rich display of the gardens complete with living statues, and a pomegranate, the symbol of eternal life and passion, being used to demonstrate the blood of the newborn. The atmosphere is deliberately cold, emphasised by the fixed camera positions that keep the protagonists at a distance from the viewer, with mainly restrained performances in outrageous costumes, accompanied by Michael Nyman's brilliant musical score.

This very accessible Peter Greenaway film is both original and rewarding, and though not as well known as his later works such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, it is a great introduction to his exceptional art (as is Drowning by Numbers). It is my personal favourite not least due to two of its beautiful ingredients, namely the ever lovely Anne Louise Lambert (Picnic at Hanging Rock), and the backdrop setting of the lush scenic countryside with the gently rolling hills of East Sussex. The former proving long before the current crop of Hollywood stars that Australian actors make for some of the most versatile, and the latter (albeit exaggerated by the green filters and subsequently somewhat decimated by the 1987 hurricane) making very pleasant walking country.

Incidentally Compton Anstey in the film is actually Groombridge Place near Tunbridge Wells (on the East Sussex/West Kent border). The grounds (including the added attraction of the `Enchanted Forest') are open to the public (the house is private and was up for sale in the summer of 2000 at around £600,000). There are none of the obelisks so prominent in the film but the uniform yew hedges remain. I can recommend it as a great place to visit, especially with children.

Curiously copies of this film in the UK in VHS PAL format were available from BlackStar but have been deleted since 8 May 2001. Their Video Hunt service could be used or try contacting the distributor, Artificial Eye Film Company Ltd.
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Self Referential Allegorical Mystery
tedg22 July 2000
Is Greenaway our most intelligent filmmaker? One of them at least. He is master of lush self-referential allegory. Here this is hung on a mystery masquerading as restoration comedy. Just maintaining the period and manner is quite a feat.

Self-reference. The film is about an artist who creates rich images that include incongruous elements. The arrogance of the artist is balanced by his blindness as to the meaning, the context of what the images reveal. Both the artist and the viewers are confused by the meaning and flummoxed by the events that the meaning triggers. Greenaway clearly means this to extend to himself, his film and the incompleteness of what we the viewers see. The drawings and the drawer's hands are in fact his.

Fantasy-allegory. This is a film richer in symbology than Drowning and Cook, but probably less so than the later `book' movies. Great attention has been spent on recondite supplementary images, including a central painting in the house being itself painted by the draftsman and filmmaker. I viewed it (the whole film) once just for details. The living statue is only the most obvious illogical element, and in fact draws attention away from other smaller visual diversions.

Mystery artifice. The whole environment is one of genteel artifice, hiding cruel mechanics of conspiracy. The cleverness of the construction is that Greenaway and us are full conspirators. No one, not us, him or the characters shown fully understand what is going on. The mystery form has always been a dialog between artist and consumer, a contest to see who can outwit whom. Very clever use of the mystery form here to include us in the artifice by not ever `playing fair.'

Restoration comedy. Past the visual allegory and the fantasy mystery and the self-reference is a restoration comedy which taken straight is hilarious. The statue is from this form.

My only criticisms are minor. This film contains a restrained story, and incidentally all sex takes place offscreen. Why be so conservative in these areas? Also, Lady Herbert required a more powerful actress I think.
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A convoluted enigma of a picture, but a must see one.
Afracious11 June 2000
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 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.
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"Your significance, Mr. Neville, is attributable to both innocence and arrogance in equal parts." He understands this too late
Terrell-419 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
We're in post Restoration England in 1694, and at a country estate filled with condescending, witty, superficial creatures dressed in heavy satins and lace, with chalk dusted cheeks, painted cupid lips and beauty spots, and wearing magnificent high wigs with cascading curls down to the waist...and that's just the men.

In their midst is Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a talented, successful and arrogant artist whose father, we learn later, was a tenant farmer. He is engaged by the lady of the estate, Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) to draw 12 views of the estate as a present for her clod of a husband, who will be away on business for the next 15 days. Mr. Neville declines. The unhappily married Mrs. Herbert increases his fee. Mr. Neville again declines. Mrs. Herbert offers him her intimate pleasure along with the fee. At that, Mr. Neville agrees. A contract is prepared which spells out Mr. Neville's exact requirements for the 12 views and Mrs. Herbert's contractual obligation for his pleasure. In the course of these two weeks the detailed views will be drawn, pleasure will be taken, Mrs. Herbert's daughter, Mrs. Tallman, will offer a contract of her own and we will learn a bit about heirs and impotency. The absent Mr. Herbert will return, but as a corpse discovered in the estate's moat.

I have no doubt that Peter Greenaway knew exactly what he was doing with The Draughtsman's Contract. Me? I know what I think happened...probably. I like this movie immensely. Discussing the meaning behind Greenaway's films like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, or Prospero's Books or The Draughtsman's Contract, is almost a small industry among film students and certain cineastes. A good place to start this sort of discussion, however, is not with "Greenaway was aiming at this..." but with "I think Greenaway was aiming at this..." That "I" language makes the speaker own his or her opinions, and almost invariably decreases the "Izzat so?" quotient. That's a positive. What I know is that I think The Draughtsman's Contract is a mannered, magnificent puzzle of a film, where everyone speaks in complete sentences. It's stuffed full of elegance, precision, disconcerting oddness, uncomfortable relationships, hidden motives, ego, style, art, sex, eye burning, murder and ambiguity. When this is all stirred together with Greenaway's imagination and ability to create disconcerting and beautiful visions, what more could a person want? Well, perhaps a story that moves from plot point to plot point, all clear and tidy, and with an ending that leaves us satisfied and happy. If that's so, then Greenaway is not for you. Better stick with Michael Shayne, Private Detective (another movie I like a lot).

"Your significance, Mr. Neville," says one important character, "is attributable to both innocence and arrogance in equal parts." His arrogance doesn't allow more than contempt for those privileged, condescending, shallow people he now is surrounded by during these two weeks. His innocence keeps him from considering the possibilities of what he sees but doesn't see. He is a man whose lovemaking is brutally self-centered and as mannered as his conversation, with his conversation continuing during his lovemaking, "You must forgive my curiosity, madam, and open your knees." Even so, we begin to feel a little uncomfortable for him. Almost as important to the plot is that Mr. Neville draws exactly what he sees. But what does he see? A window that is open when it should be closed? A ladder against a wall? A jacket on a bush when there had been a sheet? A pair of riding boots? It all has a point, but some of it is pure Greenaway. What is, after all, the point of the countertenor...or of the naked statue who is not a statue...or, for that matter, of the 13th drawing? How sure are we of the significance of the three pomegranates...or the last scene where we witness a slobbering bite of pineapple? I don't know, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

Janet Suzman and Anthony Higgins carry us along in great style. Almost as important are Anne-Louise Lambert as Mrs. Tallman, Mrs. Herbert's daughter, and Hugh Fraser as Mr. Tallman. The movie is gorgeous to look at, painterly in its compositions and without, in my opinion, a dull moment. All that clever, mannered dialogue sounds straight from a Restoration melodrama. The Draughtsman's Contract is a wonderful movie.

The best version is the Zeitgeist DVD release. It's been carefully restored, is anamorphic and has several interesting extras, including an introduction to the film by Greenaway.
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Conceit, Deception and Power
John Morrison21 May 1999
Being of English origin the film has a particular fascination. Certain things become apparent if you know England well, but also I suspect on repeated viewing.

A tale of conceit, deception and power. The conceit of the Draughtsman, all too apparent, is matched by the conceit of the upper classes as the film unfolds. The pictoral conceit referred to in the film repeatedly is matched by a pictoral conceit played on the viewer: the wigs were never that big, the house, garden and grounds stunning and the weather too perfect.

Deception exists at many levels. The viewer is deceived as to where the houses and events take place. The allusions are to Southampton and surrounding areas. Being from the Southampton area I realized this wasn't Southampton. Though it could possibly have been. The deception was convincing. The location is Kent. I believe this deception, which fits so nicely in the film anyway, was pulled so that the owner of the house where the film is centred around would not be invaded by tourists. A nice touch which I suspect follows the line in the film, something like this), "Do you think Mrs Talbot is a lady who likes her gravel being kicked around by a pack of dogs."

The arrogance and exploitation of the ladies of the house by the Draughtsman, readily apparent, is more sinisterly exceeded by the arrogance and exploitation of the Draughtsman by the ladies. The Draughtsman provides a cover for murder, solves the problem of transfer of the property by siring a child and finally ends up as the scapegoat for murder. While the Draughtsman may appear to be playing with the household for his own amusement, the Draughtsman himself is the focus of a much more brutal and more deadly game.

Like all the best films there is much going on in the film. The lines and language are wonderfully rich. The camera merely shows you the events. And it is not above deceiving you as a viewer. Trying to make sense of it all is great fun. Many things I didn't even see until the second or third viewing, let alone make sense of them!

A beautiful allegory which slowly unfolds and challenges the senses. Much like The Prisoner (1967) tv series, and hopefully The Prisoner (2000) movie.
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"The maturing delights of her country garden"
Ali Catterall26 October 2009
Warning: 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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artzau6 November 2000
This is a confusing and gorgeous film. Witty, clever and fun. A bit bizarre with its rococo themes and moodiness but a marvelously rich visual experience. The sight of the living statue peeing on command, as it were, tickled my funny bone. I loved it from the opening scenes to its strange ending.
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Can Mathematics Be Erotic?
manfromlaramie-120 October 2005
Hugely enjoyable, if somewhat a tad too clever for its own good. A very good English director's attempt to be more continental, by being deliberately obscure, and throwing in large dollops of raunchy eroticism. Imagine if you will an episode of PBS's Mystery set during the Restoration, with a script by Einstein, and direction by Frederico Fellini.

Two excellent stage actors - Anthony Higgins and Janet Suzman - in combination with the very sultry and seldom seen Australian actress Anne Louise Lambert, act their sexy sox off in this delightful delicate pastry of a movie. In the year 1694 an artist is commissioned to create a series of precise drawings of an enormous country house. The twist is that his agreed form of payment is most unusual.

Michael Nyman's score is a careful, yet loud, modern arrangement with contemporary wind and string instruments. The photography by Curtis Clark is incredible, and these two creative artists convince you, you are in the 17th Century. The interior scenes are lit only by candlelight - as was also the case in Kubrick's superb historical masterpiece Barry Lyndon. This movie somehow combines elements of sophisticated themes of woman's self-empowerment, the inhumanity of the aristocracy, mathematics, and Benny Hill eroticism. Really rather wonderful and unique, but also in-retrospect, less than the sum of its parts. For a superior Peter Greenaway picture, try Drowning By Numbers, A Zed and Two Naughts, and The Cook, the Wife, etc..
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"The arty - farty posing as art"
ianlouisiana28 January 2015
Warning: 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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Rich, tart and amusing art-house thriller
Framescourer27 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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A great treat.
Boba_Fett113824 October 2007
Guess I really like this sort of period movies, about the British upper-class in the 17th century. The movies have an own unique kind of style and atmosphere over them. This especially really goes for this unique little film.

it's a very witty movie and halve way through it also becomes obvious exactly how intelligently the movie is written and constructed. At first it doesn't look like the movie is heading anywhere and it's merely a good and enjoyable movie filled with some slightly subtle eccentric and quirky characters. But about halve way through it becomes clear that the intentions within the story and the intentions of the characters have way more in to them, when the movie becomes more of a murder-mystery and layered and the character's motivations all start to take form and become clear. It makes the movie surprisingly and delightful. It's a really well constructed and visually crafted movie from Peter Greenaway.

The movie doesn't have the Jane Austen kind of story and approach but more like "Barry Lyndon" with the same certain quirkiness in it, if I need to compare it to anything else. The movie has a sort of a surreal kind of atmosphere over it, which gets strengthened all the more by the outrageous costumes and wigs, thick accents and extremely difficult but beautiful to listen to- dialog and of course the special kind of characters that are in the movie. It's also a very sexy and sort of erotic movie to watch at, with almost always a sort of sexual tension in the atmosphere during the entire movie, despite not having any real nudity or explicit nude scene's in it.

The whole movie is almost entire filmed in a stage-play kind of approach, with no moving camera's and long sequences filled with dialog. Really the sort of stuff you normally experience during a stage-play. It all adds up to the reasons why this movie is a quite unique and delightful little movie to watch.

This movie is a great watch, as long as you're capable of handling the long and difficult dialog and the more stage-play kind of storytelling.

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The emperor's clothes! Prententious, nonsensical & frustrating.
Jeremy Benjamin20 April 2008
Peter Greenaway originally intended this film to be over three hours long, but he was eventually made to edit it down to 103 minutes. Well, maybe the three hour version would have made some sort of sense, but the shorter version makes none! There are all kinds of elements essential to understanding the story which do not appear in the film, and which you will only know about from reviews which undoubtedly themselves were dependant on explanations by the film makers. This is an example of pretentious nonsense being lavishly praised by weak minds afraid to call the emperor naked. It is best to see this film without having read what it is supposed to be about, as that is an objective state of mind. No film should require to be explained to reasonably intelligent people. This is art-house drivel.
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My brief review of the film
sol-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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SnoopyStyle15 July 2016
Mr. Neville is a young arrogant artist full of himself. He is contracted to make landscape estate drawings by Mrs. Virginia Herbert. She has a bitter relationship with her wealthy landowning husband who leaves on a trip. She submits to Neville sexually as part of the contract. There is also her daughter Mrs. Talmann and her husband Mr. Talmann. The couple is childless taking care of his nephew. Mrs. Herbert tries to revoke the contract but Neville refuses. Mrs. Talmann blackmails Neville into entering a similar contract pointing out items in his drawings which indicate "misadventure". When Mr. Herbert is found dead in the moat, Neville is horrified to discover that he's the leading suspect.

This is an unusual film. It's a Shakespearian sex romp with a murder mystery. The style has long takes and mid to long distance visuals. The movie lost me the first time around. It can meander and the story can be mercurial. It would help a lot if the murder is shown even if the perpetrators are not. The individual clues need accompanying flashbacks to show that part of the crime. This has a certain amount of beauty and weird originality but it's not easy for everyone.
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The Draughtman's Contract
Jackson Booth-Millard13 November 2015
Warning: 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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What in the world?
kdearing10 March 2004
I had to watch this movie for my film class. It was terrible. The film quality was terrible, perhaps because we viewed it on VHS. This is what I got from the movie:

1. There was a draftsmen who got alot of action from the 2 women of the house 2. There was a mysterious naked man painted like a statue; who knows what his purpose was. 3. There is alot of wig usage.

Maybe I'm not as 'deep' as some of you film buffs, but frankly, this movie was terrible and was a bore. I had to promise myself Ben and Jerry's if I sat through the whole thing.

In conclusion, if you want British film, go get Monty Python.
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Rich and rewarding
Jeff Orgill12 January 2007
A very funny film with lots of great dialog. Some good examples of the dialog are listed in the quotable lines section of IMDb. Greenaway makes very intricate films. You can re-watch them and keep learning more each time. This one does not use the grotesque imagery which he used in films like THE COOK and ZOO. But it is still lushly composed visually, if more subtly. A word that comes to mind with Greenaway films is saturation - not of color, but of ideas. His background is in the arts and his films tend to be more like paintings layered with many ideas rather than the more literal representational photographic style used in most mainstream/classical/Hollywood film-making. Greenaway has a kindred spirit in Joel-Peter Witkin who also soaks each of his still frames in multiple outside references.
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Beautiful but Boring
kenjha28 April 2006
An artist is hired by a rich woman to create a series of paintings while her husband is missing in action. The contract also includes some language about sexual favors. The settings are beautifully photographed but the movie is full of talking heads. They talk and talk and talk without saying anything interesting. Reflecting Greenaway's obsession with male nudity, there is an inexplicable running gag about a naked guy who turns up all over the estate posing as statues. Somewhere along the way, a dead body turns up. For those who manage to say awake until then, the ending will make no sense but who cares, as most of the film makes little sense.
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Mischief of obscure meanings
chaos-rampant28 May 2011
Warning: 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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A vulgar story turned into a work of art
pacolopezpersonal-220574 October 2017
The Draughtsman's Contract contained a little special conditions; sometimes it was the draftsman himself who would establish the clauses and conditions and sometimes were the ladies who required him and his "services". The title of the film could have well been "The Draughtsman's pencil". The film is full of sexual / fruity symbolism, which complements a statue of a naked man which can be part of any landscape at any time. The movie also presents an outstanding scenery. Makeup and costumes are so excessive that they contribute visually to give a tone of something never seen before, although on the other side, the main plot is extremely vulgar with an outcome certainly as excessive as the rest of the work. The soundtrack by Nyman is not only a great contribution but sometimes eclipses everything by turning the images into a sort of video clip. It could be said that the features of Greenaway's works are similar to Andy Warhol insofar as their ideas for reinterpreting art can turn something vulgar into a fascinating item.
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So much misunderstanding
Kiers (Kiers77)23 July 2017
There is no need to hate this movie. It's quite enjoyable by itself. It doesn't require any heavy intellectual digging or background instruction manual to appreciate. Plus, it's quirky comedy is being taken as mysterious and dark. Please! Just enjoy it and laugh. The humor is irksome but funny. It's like a bit of Shakespeare. It has meaningful plot and fun dialogs. The guy who wrote the review centering on the Draughtsman's "arrogance and innocence "(a dangerous combo!) had it spot on, and this personality flaw is key to the plot. Thoroughly enjoyable and funny and clever. Architects everywhere, TAKE COVER! LOL.
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