Monday, 2 March 2020

The Draughtsman's Contract - 1982 film review

I first saw The Draughtsman's Contract on television ten years or so ago. I began watching casually, probably not paying enough attention. I certainly didn't know what to expect and at times I found its enigmatic style perplexing, but I stuck with it and was duly shocked by the horrific and unexpected ending. It made a considerable impression on me, and I was interested, some years later, to read the thoughts of Peter Greenaway, who wrote and directed, and the comparisons he drew between his film and the country house murder mysteries of Agatha Christie. I even mentioned the film in The Golden Age of Murder.

Few films have haunted me like this one. There's just something about it that's different and memorable. I recently bought the DVD version, which has some good extras, and I think it's one of those films that is even better when you watch it for a second time. Knowing the ending didn't spoil my enjoyment at all.

So what is this strange film about? Well, it's set in 1694, and at the outset wealthy Lady Herbert (Janet Suzman) enters into a contract with a talented but arrogant draughtsman called Neville (Anthony Higgins). He is to make twelve drawings of the country house where she lives with her husband, and since the husband is off on a trip to Southampton, the contract contains a very unusual clause....

It's a visually stunning film, and the country house (Groombridge Place, which is near Tunbridge Wells, and whose gardens I'd like to visit one day) is very attractive. While working on the drawings, Neville gets to know Mrs Herbert's daughter (Anne-Louise Lambert) and her dreadful German husband (played, talking of Agatha Christie, by good old Hastings himself, Hugh Fraser). The supporting cast includes, equally unexpectedly, Lynda La Plante - this was before she shot to fame with Prime Suspect. The soundtrack is by Michael Nyman, channelling Purcell.

It's not a film that will be to everyone's taste. Some may think it arty and pretentious. But I remain impressed by Greenaway's imagination and flair.


Andrea Charles said...

Dear Mr. Martin Edwards, thank you very much for dedication your time and effort in putting some beautiful reviews on books and films for years together. I have watched “The Draughtsman's Contract” but the perspective and thought provided by you was very singular and made me watch the movie from a different angle.

Clothes in Books said...

I saw this film in the cinema when it first came out, and absolutely loved it.
A couple of years later I saw it was going to be on TV, and mentioned to a couple of colleagues that it was one of my favourites.
We worked shifts (this was in Liverpool Martin!) and I wasn't in work the next day: one of my colleagues rang me at home - I assumed it was a work emergency. But no, she said 'Right Moira, we are all sitting here talking about that blooming film, we've got you on speakerphone, and you are now going to explain to all of us what is so good about it, and what was going on.'

Nowadays all would have been done on social media or Netflix Watch Party or whatever: but this was quite the moment for us all, it has always stuck in my mind and I smile when I think of it. I don't think I brought many of them over to my side.

VasanthMusicCoimbatore said...

Your year of reviewing some epic and classic movies have given us readers a great benefit of doubt on each of them. Thank you, Martin, for such years of devoted and meticulous penning and this specific movie “The Draughtsman's Contract”, was a long pending one in my watchlist and finally I did after reading your reviews.