Peter Greenaway’s audacious film (his first commercially released feature film) landed in 1980s Britain like ET’s spaceship in the Californian woods.
Unrealistic and baffling – featuring a living statue that pisses on command – it’s a stunning portrayal of the past as an alien world.
In 1694, esteemed draughtsman Mr Neville (Anthony Higgins) is contracted by the fruity and wealthy Mrs Herbert (Janet Suzman) to make 12 drawings of her estate.
In return – their contract states – she will agree “to meet Mr Neville in private and to comply with his requests concerning his pleasure with me”. What begins as a saucy exchange of sex for sketches deepens into an English country-house mystery like no other.
“You must forgive my curiosity madam, and open your knees”
The possibility of his drawings being an artistic witness to a murder is deftly, tantalisingly displayed and his ultimate downfall from arrogant posturing is a lesson in class-distinction, only to be expected from the aristocratic world he’s tried to enter.
Clever, witty and with obsessively minimalist music by Michael Nyman to reinforce the remarkable visuals, this has the growing momentum of a ground-breaking debut. Typically, Greenaway deleted a pivotal scene towards the end of the film, which made sense of the plot.
Pretentious? Moi? Mais oui . . . but important all the same.
Anne Louise Lambert
Lynda La Plante