The Draughtsman's Contract
The Draughtsman's Contract is a 1982 British film written and directed by Peter Greenaway – his first conventional feature film (following the feature-length mockumentary The Falls). Originally produced for Channel 4 the film is a form of murder mystery, set in rural Wiltshire, England in 1694 (during the reign of William III and Mary II). The period setting is reflected in Michael Nyman's score, which borrows widely from Henry Purcell and in the extensive and elaborate costume designs (which, for effect, slightly exaggerate those of the period). The action was shot on location in the house and formal gardens of Groombridge Place. The film received the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.
|The Draughtsman's Contract|
Theatrical re-release poster
|Directed by||Peter Greenaway|
|Produced by||David Payne|
|Written by||Peter Greenaway|
|Music by||Michael Nyman|
|Edited by||John Wilson|
|Distributed by||Curzon Artificial Eye|
Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a young, arrogant artist and something of a Byronic hero, is contracted by Mrs. Virginia Herbert (Janet Suzman) to produce a series of twelve landscape drawings of her country house, its outbuildings and gardens, for her absent and estranged husband.
Part of the contract is that Mrs. Herbert agrees "to meet Mr. Neville in private and to comply with his requests concerning his pleasure with me". Several sexual encounters between them follow, each indicating reluctance or distress on the part of Mrs Herbert and sexual aggression or insensitivity on the part of Mr Neville. During his stay, Mr. Neville becomes disliked by several of its visitors and inhabitants, especially by Mrs. Herbert's son-in-law, Mr. Talmann (Hugh Fraser).
Mrs. Herbert, wearied of meeting Mr. Neville for his pleasure, tries to terminate the contract before the drawings are completed. Neville refuses and continues as before. Then Mrs. Herbert's married but childless daughter, Mrs. Talmann (Anne-Louise Lambert), blackmails him into a second contract in which he agrees to comply with her pleasure, rather than his.
Mr Herbert's body is discovered in the moat. Mr. Neville completes his drawings and leaves but returns to make an unlucky thirteenth drawing. In the evening, while Mr. Neville is apparently finishing the final sketch, he is approached by a masked man, obviously Mr. Talmann in disguise, who is then joined by the estate manager and Mrs. Herbert's ex fiancé, Mr. Noyes, neighbour Mr. Seymore and the Poulencs, eccentric local landowner twins.
The party accuses Mr. Neville of the murder of Mr. Herbert, for the drawings can be interpreted to suggest more than one illegal act and to implicate more than one person. When he denies the accusation, the group ask Mr. Neville to remove his hat. He agrees mockingly, at which point they hit him on the head, burn out his eyes, club him to death and then throw him into the moat at the place where Mr. Herbert's body was found.
- Anthony Higgins as R. Neville
- Janet Suzman as Virginia Herbert
- Dave Hill as Mr Herbert
- Anne-Louise Lambert as Sarah Talmann
- Hugh Fraser as Mr Talmann
- Neil Cunningham as Thomas Noyes
- David Meyer as Poulenc brother
- Tony Meyer as Poulenc brother
- Nicholas Amer as Parkes
- Suzan Crowley as Mrs. Pierpont
- Lynda La Plante as Mrs Clement
- Michael Feast as the Statue
- David Gant as Seymour
- Alastair Cumming as Philip
- Steve Ubels as Hoyten
Although there is a murder mystery, its resolution is not explicit; it is implied that the mother (Mrs. Herbert) and daughter (Mrs. Talmann) planned the murder of Mr. Herbert. Mrs. Herbert and Mrs. Talmann were aided by Mr. Clarke, the gardener, and his assistant.
In order to keep the estate in their hands, they needed an heir. Because Mr. Talmann was impotent, they used Mr. Neville as a stud. Mr. Herbert was murdered at the site where Mr. Neville is murdered. (In the original treatment, Mr. Herbert is murdered on his return on the 12th day and the site was vetoed as a painting site, because it was instead to be used as a murder site.)
The film was inspired when Greenaway, who trained as an artist before becoming a filmmaker, spent three weeks drawing a house near Hay-on-Wye while holidaying with his family. Much like Mr. Neville in the final film, every day he would work on a particular view at a set time, to preserve the lighting effects while sketching from day to day. The hands shown drawing in the film are Greenaway's own, as are the completed drawings.
The original cut of the film was about three hours long. The opening scene was about 30 minutes long and showed each character talking, at least once, with every other character. Possibly to make the film easier to watch, Greenaway edited it to 103 minutes. The opening scene is now about 10 minutes long and no longer shows all the interactions among all of the characters. Some anomalies in the longer version film are deliberate anachronisms: the depiction of the use of a cordless phone in the 17th century and the inclusion on the walls of the house of paintings by Greenaway in emulation of Roy Lichtenstein which are partly visible in the released version of the film.
The released final version provides fewer explanations to the plot's numerous oddities and mysteries. The main murder mystery is never solved, though little doubt remains as to who did it. The reasons for the 'living statue' in the garden and why Mr. Neville attached so many conditions to his contract were also more developed in the first version.
Groombridge Place was the main location in this tale of 17th Century intrigue and murder.
|The Draughtsman's Contract|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Genre||Contemporary classical music, Film scores; minimalism|
|Michael Nyman chronology|
Michael Nyman's score is derived from grounds by Henry Purcell overlain by new melodies. The original plan was to use one ground for every two of the twelve drawings but Nyman states in the liner notes that this was unworkable. The ground for one of the most popular pieces, "An Eye for Optical Theory", is considered to be probably composed by William Croft, a contemporary of Purcell. The goal was to create a generalized memory of Purcell, rather than specific memories, so a piece as readily recognizable as "Dido's Lament" was not considered an acceptable source of a ground. Purcell is credited as a "music consultant".
The album was the fourth album release by Michael Nyman and the third to feature the Michael Nyman Band. "It's like harpsichord and a lot of strings, woodwind and a bit of brass," remarked Neil Hannon, frontman of The Divine Comedy. "Somehow they just manage to… rock. With a vengeance."
- "Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds"- 2:33 (King Arthur, Act III, Scene 2, Prelude (as Cupid descends))
- "The Disposition of the Linen"- 4:47 ("She Loves and She Confesses Too" (Secular Song, Z.413))
- "A Watery Death"- 3:31 ("Pavan in B flat," Z. 750; "Chaconne" from Suite No. 2 in G Minor)
- "The Garden Is Becoming a Robe Room"- 6:05 ("Here the deities approve" from Welcome to all the Pleasures (Ode); E minor ground in Henry Playford's collection, Musick's Hand-Maid (Second Part))
- "Queen of the Night"- 6:09 ("So when the glitt'ring Queen of the Night" from The Yorkshire Feast Song)
- "An Eye for Optical Theory"- 5:09 (Ground in C minor (D221) [attributed to William Croft])
- "Bravura in the Face of Grief"- 12:16 ("The Plaint" from The Fairy-Queen, Act V)
The first music heard in the film is, in fact, a bit of Purcell's song, "Queen of the Night". "The Disposition of the Linen", in its Nyman formulation, is a waltz, a form that postdates Purcell by c. 150 years.
The album was issued on compact disc in 1989 by Virgin Records, marketed in the United States by Caroline Records under their Blue Plate imprint. Initially this was indicated with a sticker; it was later incorporated into the back cover design in a much smaller size.
The entire album has been rerecorded by the current lineup of the Michael Nyman Band. See The Composer's Cut Series Vol. I: The Draughtsman's Contract.
The visual references for the film are paintings by Caravaggio, de La Tour, Rembrandt, Vermeer and other Baroque artists and this gives the film a "painterly quality". Greenaway also said: "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".
The Draughtsman's Contract has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.1/10. The site's consensus reads: "Smart and utterly original, The Draughtman's Contract is a period piece that marks the further maturation of a writer-director with a thrillingly unique vision". Roger Ebert, who gave the film a full four stars, wrote, "What we have here is a tantalizing puzzle, wrapped in eroticism and presented with the utmost elegance. [...] All of the characters speak in complete, elegant, literary sentences. All of the camera strategies are formal and mannered. The movie advances with the grace and precision of a well-behaved novel." In Slant, a mildly positive Jeremiah Kipp called it "a first, fledgling attempt at what he later perfected, but that modesty could be seen as a virtue, since there is indeed some form of narrative here instead of the nonlinear, compulsive list-making and categorization that drives some people crazy about his other films. [...] The story marches forward like a death march and is resolved with merciless efficiency." Danny Peary wrote that "Greenaway handles everything with such elegance that we are totally unprepared for the final act of cruelty. Ending is haunting; it makes you reassess all that went before –supposed victims are really heartless predators."
The film was originally shot on Super 16mm film, then blown up to 35mm for cinema releases. In 2003 the BFI restored the film digitally and this restoration was released on DVD. Umbrella Entertainment released the digitally restored film on DVD in Australia, with special features including an introduction and commentary by Peter Greenaway, an interview With Composer Michael Nyman, behind the scenes footage and on set interviews, deleted scenes, trailers and a featurette on the film's digital restoration.
- Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 261
- BRITISH PRODUCTION 1981 Moses, Antoinette. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 51, Iss. 4, (Fall 1982): 258.
- The location is given as "Groombridge" for example in the stills page Archived 10 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- The details are spelled out in Greenaway's original treatment, as DVD bonuses on the BFI website
- Greenaway, Peter (1 August 2003). "Murder he drew". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
- Willochet, Paula. Peter Greenaway in Indianapolis lecture, Introduction. 1997.
- Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office The Draughtsman's Contract Film Focus".
- The Draughtsman's Contract at AllMusic
- Thornton, Anthony: 'Neil Hannon's Record Collection', Q #146, November 1998, p67
- Pwyll ap Siôn. The Music of Michael Nyman: text, context and intertext, page 96.
- L'avant-scène cinéma, "Peter Greenaway: Meurtre dans un jardin anglais", n° 333, October 1984
- "The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- Ebert, Roger (29 September 1983). "The Draughtsman's Contract Movie Review (1983)". Retrieved 27 January 2017.
- Kipp, Jeremiah (22 January 2008). "The Draughtsman's Contract". Slant. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
- Peary, Danny (1986). Guide for the film fanatic. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 131. ISBN 0-671-61081-3. OCLC 13581204.
- "Umbrella Entertainment - DRAUGHTSMANS CONTRACT, THE". Kew, Victoria, Australia: Umbrella Entertainment. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
- The Draughtsman's Contract, film reference, Sylvia Paskin – detailed bibliography
- 922 (63). The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982, Peter Greenaway), Shooting Down Pictures – links and excerpts to many reviews
- The Draughtsman's Contract, James Mackenzie, January 2001
- The Draughtsman's Contract, not coming to a theater near you, David Carter, 12 January 2010
- The Draughtsman's Contract, DVD Beaver – comparison of DVD releases