The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)

The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)

Taglines: A landscape of lust and cunning.

Mr. Neville, a cocksure young artist is contracted by Mrs. Herbert, the wife of a wealthy landowner, to produce a set of twelve drawings of her husband’s estate, a contract which extends much further than either the purse or the sketchpad. The sketches themselves prove of an even greater significance than supposed upon the discovery of the body of Mr. Herbert.

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 and Mary).

The period setting is reflected in Michael Nyman’s score, which borrows extensively from Henry Purcell and in the extensive and elaborate costume designs (which slightly exaggerate those of the period for effect). The action was shot on location in the house and formal gardens of Groombridge Place. The film received the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.

About the Story

Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a young and arrogant artist and something of a Byronic hero, is contracted to produce a series of 12 landscape drawings of an estate, by Mrs. Virginia Herbert (Janet Suzman) 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 of them acted in such a way as to emphasise reluctance or distress on the part of Mrs Herbert and sexual aggression or insensitivity on the part of Mr Neville. Whilst living on the estate, Mr. Neville gains quite a reputation with its dwellers, especially with Mrs. Herbert’s son-in-law, Mr. Talmann.

Mrs. Herbert, wearied of meeting Mr. Neville for his pleasure, tries to terminate the contract before all of the drawings are completed and orders Mr. Neville to stop. Neville refuses to void the contract and continues as before. Then Mrs. Herbert’s married but as yet childless, daughter Mrs. Talmann, who has apparently become attracted to Mr. Neville, seems to blackmail him into making a second contract in which he agrees to comply with what is described as her pleasure, rather than his — a reversal of the position in regard to her mother.

A number of curious objects appear in Neville’s drawings, which point ultimately to the murder of Mr. Herbert, whose body is discovered in the moat of the house. Mr. Neville completes his twelve drawings and leaves the house 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 stranger, who is obviously Mr. Talmann in disguise, who is then joined by Mr. Noyes, Mr. Seymore and the Poulencs, a pair of 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.

The Draughtsman's Contract Movie Poster (1982)

The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)

Directed by: Peter Greenaway
Starring: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser, Neil Cunningham, Dave Hill, Nicholas Amer, Lynda La Plante
Screenplay by: Peter Greenaway
Cinematography by: Curtis Clark
Film Editing by: John Wilson
Costume Design by: Sue Blane
Art Direction by: Bob Ringwood
Music by: Michael Nyman
Distributed by: United Artists Classics
Release Date: June 22, 1982