The Draughtsman’s Contract

Peter Greenaway · 1982
108min · DCP
  • Sunday, Dec 4, 2022, 7:30pm
  • Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022, 7:30pm

Newly remastered in 4K by the BFI National Archive. Set in a richly exaggerated 17th-century England, Peter Greenaway’s witty, stylised, erotic country house murder mystery catapulted him to the forefront of international art cinema. Adorned with intricate wordplay, extravagant costumes and opulent photography, Greenaway’s first narrative feature weaves a labyrinthine mystery around the maxim “draw what you see, not what you know.” An aristocratic wife (Janet Suzman) commissions a young, cocksure draughtsman (Anthony Higgins) to sketch her husband’s property while he is away—in exchange for a fee, lodging, and one sexual favor for each drawing. As the draughtsman becomes more entrenched in the devious schemings, curious details emerge in his drawings that may reveal a murder. Bolstered by a mesmerising score by then-newcomer Michael Nyman and stunning cinematography by Curtis Clark, The Draughtsman’s Contract is a luscious cinematic banquet for eye, ear and mind.

“The speeches are so arch and twitty they seem to be pitched higher than a dog whistle, and the people talking are popinjays in perukes shaped as geometrically as the shrubs at Marienbad.” Pauline Kael

“Astonishingly elegant… extraordinarily detailed… mind-bendingly rich.” Vincent Canby, New York Times

“Its pleasures do not fade… One can still marvel at this cerebral romp of a film that combines both 17th-century country house murder mystery with a witty treatise on sex, lies and draughtsmanship… A playful puzzler to watch over and over, that might just be the aesthete’s version of Gameboy.” The Guardian (UK)

“What we have here is a tantalizing puzzle, wrapped in eroticism and pre-sented with the utmost elegance. I have never seen a film quite like it.” Roger Ebert