Classic Film – Members’ Choice The Draughtsman’s Contract

Feb 27, 2019
Cranbrook Film Society

You can find the official HD trailer if you search for it online. I have embedded here a most amusing alternative trailer instead.

This evening’s screening will be the most popular film selected by members from a list offered on 12th December. The film chosen will be announced shortly after that date.

Here is the list.

1 The Draughtsman’s Contract

Peter Greenaway | Netherlands | 1982 | 108 mins | R

Set in 1694, shot entirely at Groombridge Place, based on Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’. A work of visual vivacity; this murder mystery is possibly the most beautiful film in English cinema.

2 Last of the Mohicans

Michael Mann | USA | 1992 | 112 mins | R

Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye in this magnificent interpretation of Fenimore Cooper’s classic tale of genocide and empire. Terrific battles, great soundtrack and a truly memorable villain, Wes Stud’s Magua.

3 A Matter of Life and Death

Powell & Pressburger | USA | 1946 | 104 mins | PG

Love conquers all in this fabulous early colour escapist fantasy of strangeness. David Niven in his crashing bomber fights for a second chance at life to woo Kim Hunter.

4 A Knight’s Tale

Brian Helgeland | USA | 2001 | 133 mins | PG

Underrated, unpretentious jousting romp with modern soundtrack. A cast of unrivalled young potential, Heath Ledger and Rufus Sewell lock lances. A spectacle that benefits from the big screen.

Funny, original and feel good.

5 Seven Samurai

Akiro Kurosawa | Japan | 1954 | 387 Mins | A

A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.

From such simple beginnings Kurosawa’s beautiful action epic establishes and fully realises, the definitive blueprint for the modern action movie.

Winner of the Silver Lion at Venice 1954.

6 L’Avventura

Michelangelo Antonioni | Italy | 1960 | 143mins | X

It’s difficult to think of a film that has a more powerful understanding of the way that people are bound to the world around them, by what they see and touch and hear.

Visually, sensually, theatrically, in every way, it’s one of the great works of Cinema.” – Martin Scorsese.

7 Quatre Cent Coups (400 Blows)

Francois Truffaut | USA | 1959 | 99 mins | NR

Francois Truffaut’s first feature film, the cornerstone of the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague), which had such an impact on French and world cinema. It paints an authentic picture of troubled adolescence and brilliantly conveys the mischief and vulnerability of the teen-aged central character. The film won Best Director at Cannes (1959), and its final frames are unforgettable.

8 Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex* But Were Afraid To Ask

Woody Allen | USA |1973 | 88 minutes |18

Inspired by the book of the same title and “every funny idea I’ve ever had about sex, including several that led to my own divorce”, Allen answers seven questions with parodies of Antonioni, sci-fi, Masters and Johnson, TV quiz shows and a sublimely funny encounter between an Armenian shepherd and his psychiatrist.

9 The Motorcycle Diaries

Walter Salles | Brazil/Fra/UK/Chile/Gdr/Peru/USA | 2004 | 126 mins | NR

Set in the 1950s, the film traces an 8000-mile motorcycle journey of two close friends. These are Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, who became the iconic Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and Alberto Granado. It is a classic road movie that follows the youths’ progression from hedonism to their desire for social justice in the face of overwhelming poverty.

10 Cinema Paradiso

Giuseppe Tonore | Italy | 1988 | 155 mins | R

If ever a movie came from the heart, it was Giuseppe Tornatore’s nostalgic Cinema Paradiso (1988) now getting a rerelease to celebrate its silver jubilee. A successful but jaded film director recalls his Sicilian childhood.” (Peter Bradshaw).

11 On The Water Front

Elia Kazan | USA | 1954 | 108 mins | NR

This seminal classic scored and deserved 8 Oscars, with Brando, Steiger and Eve-Mari Saint – unforgettable.

Brando plays a brooding misfit amid the rampant corruption of New York dockland in a beautifully

crafted drama. Leonard Bernstein wrote the score.

12 Chinatown

Roman Polanski | USA | 1974 | 130 minutes |15

Multiple award winning neo-noir, full of mystery and clever twists, with one of Jack Nicolson’s best performances as a dogged private eye hired by a beautiful socialite to investigate her husband’s adultery and who stumbles into a complex web of murder, deceit and corruption.


A glossary of the Draughtsman’s Contract.

– Written and directed by Peter Greenaway, enfant terrible of British Cinema. “The Draughtsman’s Contract” is his second and most popular film. Other notable successes include “Zed and Two Noughts” and “The Belly of an Architect”.
– Costume designer /stylist…Bob Ringwood. Famous for his later work in Hollywood, designed Batman suit, Star Trek, Alien 3…many more, his superbly cut outfits make the actors look natural and at home in their clothes.
– Cinematography…Curtis Clark. Notable for his use of 16mm film upped to 35mm which is instrumental in giving the landscape the sharp look and depth of field that make the scenes so resonant. Dominant colours green, black and white.
– Filmed entirely on location at Groombridge Place in Kent (Built 1666) at a cost of £320,000 or a new roof for the house’s owner Mr Mountain
– Music Purcell /Nyman
– Originally commissioned by Channel 4

The Draughtsman’s Contract is an opaque murder mystery that uses brilliantly synchronized music, photography and editing to drive its plot. The beauty of the English countryside has never been so exquisitely and intimately filmed…even moving clouds and breeze-fanned grass have a place in the drama…as do the sheep.

The film opens in the year 1694 to Purcell’s music Queen of the Night…”So when the glittering Queen of night with black eclipse is shadowed over…”

The scene introduces us to the bones of the plot: Mrs Virginia Herbert (Janet Suzman), the wife of the Country House owner Mr Herbert, frets in the shadows of her party. The guests who are there to celebrate the value of their property under the new Protestant regime of William and Mary are a new class of opportunist. Her husband declaims the position of a woman in that world “A House, a garden, a horse, a wife the preferential order”…he is clearly tired of his spouse. For her part Mrs Herbert is without a male heir and her childless daughter is married to an impotent Dutch foreigner Mr Talmann. Should Mr Herbert divorce her, she and her daughter will be rendered powerless and even homeless. Mrs Herbert and her live-in lover Mr Noyse hit on a plan to engage a handsome, arrogant draughtsman, Mr Neville, ostensibly to record her husband’s property in twelve drawings. These would be a present to appease his anger and a surprise for him on his return from libidinous forays in nearby Southampton. They approach Mr Neville and make an inadequate offer for his services. He being an outsider, (hence his being dressed in black), seizes the chance to humiliate what he sees as one of his betters and decides that part of his price will be taking physical advantage of Mrs Herbert. “Your terms are extravagant so must mine be.”

Mrs Herbert agrees to the terms “To meet Mr Neville in private and comply with his requests concerning his pleasure with me.”

For her part Mrs Herbert quickly realises that should Mr Neville get herself or her daughter pregnant with a male heir her position on her property will become secure and her obnoxious husband irrelevant…Mrs Herbert is thus mistress of strategy and Queen of the Night…Mr Neville is her unwitting instrument. From here the story unfolds with Neville lording it over everybody whilst dutifully recording clues to a murder in each of the twelve drawings, implicating himself as an accomplice and making deadly enemies at every turn.
Nearing the very end of the story and having completed his commissions, Mr Neville indulges a last assignation with Mrs Herbert who orders him a pineapple and invites him to undertake a thirteenth commission – the empty statue of the horse in the garden.

“The Draughtsman’s Contract” bears more than a passing resemblance to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960’s masterpiece “Blow Up” Both films are centred on a fashionable draughtsman/photographer meeting adulterous women and unwittingly recording mysterious images the significance of which they are uncertain of and which in both cases appear to point to murder in a park.

The language of the film is extremely literary, full of double meaning and spiteful wit. In every scene there is an exchange of pleasantries that have more in common with a deadly fencing bout than polite conversation.

Although the film has the battle of the sexes as its central theme, there is much graphic sexual exploitation, which will jar on more sensitive viewers. Just remember that like the draughtsman, you are being misled as to who has control.

Memorable quotes.

“I do not take well to young men who preen, their vanity usually outweighs their prowess”.
“Limes Madame”.

“It is time Mr Neville”.
P Bret-Day


            Weighted vote 63.43%