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The Draughtsman's Contract (1983)

Anthony Higgins , Janet Suzman , Peter Greenaway  |  R |  DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser, Neil Cunningham
  • Directors: Peter Greenaway
  • Writers: Peter Greenaway
  • Producers: David Payne
  • Format: Color, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Fox Lorber
  • DVD Release Date: December 14, 1999
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00002RATF
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,439 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Draughtsman's Contract" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

"I try very hard never to distort or dissemble," says Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a draughtsman of considerable talent contracted by a certain Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) to make 12 drawings for her absent husband of their English estate. Part of that contract involves Mr. Neville taking his pleasure, and that pleasure is Mrs. Herbert. While Mr. Neville aims for fidelity in his drawings, infidelity in private is quite another matter. Then the film becomes a cerebral puzzle when objects start appearing mysteriously in the subjects of Mr. Neville's various drawings: a ladder that wasn't there before, a pair of boots standing in a field. Mr. Neville's penchant for realism is stymied by these clues, which may or may not suggest the murder of Mr. Herbert. Peter Greenaway seems to have directed this, his first art-house success, with the aim of exploring the failings of perspective in art and casting his doubtful eye on the possibility of "faithful" drawings such as those by which Mr. Neville makes his living. Greenaway was, after all, an art student, and must have known that drawing machines like the one Mr. Neville uses in the film (which is set in 1694) led not only to the invention of photography, and therefore of film itself, but also to the renouncing of perspective that informs so much of 20th-century painting.

In the film, Greenaway overlays the story's mysterious elements with highly mannered tableaux, making each scene like a realistic, though sumptuous, painting, while having his actors spout witty and complicated sentences. While this is very entertaining, it has a dual purpose, which is to depict the falseness of surfaces. Mr. Neville's faith in the same is his downfall, and Greenaway's triumph is in his distortions and dissemblings, the narrative lie that gets closer to the truth than any architectural drawing could. --Jim Gay

Product Description

"I try very hard never to distort or dissemble," says Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a draughtsman of considerable talent contracted by a certain Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) to make 12 drawings for her absent husband of their English estate. Part of that

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite movie October 16, 1999
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
This is the only movie I've seen more than five times. The plot is always fascinating because every explanation I come up with has some flaw, although there seem to be clues everywhere. The arch dialog is delicious, and delivered by the actors with obvious relish. This is the only movie I find myself quoting lines from, simply for the fun of it. The cast is perfect. The music is wonderfully atmospheric. The scenery is luscious. It may require a decadent taste to enjoy this movie, but if you have that, it is the ideal entertainment. I haven't found anything else of Peter Greenaway's watchable. But The Draughtsman's Contract is a masterpiece.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite fascinating October 14, 2000
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This beautifully shot, highly intelligent, somewhat surreal and shockingly unknown film was originally made by Peter Greenaway for the opening night of Channel Four Television in Britain, and represents, perhaps, the man at his peak. The story, which avoids any direct explanations of itself or its plot, centres around a draughtsman (Higgins) who is hired to produce twelve drawings of a stately home in England. While he draws, objects appear in the landscape around him, which he includes in his drawings... when a body finally surfaces, do the drawings contain evidence concerning the identities of its murderers, or has some clever person purposely placed the objects in order to frame someone else... possibly the draughtsman himself? One may watch the film many times, each time coming up with a different answer; the motives and dialogue contradict each other just enough to add to the mystery, but not enough to ruin any possible explanation. The sountrack (by Michael Nyman) is also interesting: the themes within it are based on eight-bar samples of Mozart which are repeated and improvised upon, to hypnotising and evocative effect. A fascinating film.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This new digital transfer looks quite nice but keep in mind the limitations of the format it was shot in--Super 16mm (most TV shows were shot in 16mm for British TV and this was financed by Channel 4--when watching this new digitally restored transfer of "The Draughtman's Contract". The plan was for a theatrical release and then a TV airing. The budget was quite small. Super 16mm doesn't yield the fine detail of 35mm or 70mm. The transfer is an improvement over the previously available DVD but it also reveals the flaws of the source so the high definition elements can't mask the limitations of Super 16mm.

The real reason to get this though is for the extras. We get a commentary track by director Peter Greenaway as well as an introduction that's almost long enough to be a featurette on the making of the film. We also get deleted scenes, an interview with composer Michael Nyman ("The Piano"--this was one of Nyman's first scores), a restoration demonstration, behind-the-scenes footage and on set interviews and the original theatrical trailer for the film. There is also a booklet with an essay by Greenaway (don't read it until AFTER you have seen the film if this is your first time viewing it)and an interview with Cinematographer Curtis Clark discussing how he and Greenaway decided to use Super 16mm and the challenge of shooting only by candlelight.

"The Draughtman's Contract" won't be for everyone. Director Peter Greenaway deliberately sought to subvert the way a traditional period piece was portrayed in film with this unusual and elliptic mystery. Part social commentary and avant garde period piece. Greenaway has his actors behave in a stiff, formal way often posing as often as performing.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Games for Adults May 12, 2001
Peter Greenaway may be the last indisputably distinctive Anglophone filmmaker. With "The Draughtsman's Contract," he broke through from relative obscurity as an experimental artist into feature-length narratives. While his subsequent films have been more conservative than his earlier work, he remains a highly original and innovative artist. "Contract" may be his most balanced film, integrating much of his earlier formal experimentation with the demands of narrative.
Greenaway is just about the only well-known filmmaker with an interest in the art and film theory of the past thirty-five years. His is a "meta-cinema," at least as much about the act of making and watching movies as about particular situations. Summarizing the story of "The Draughtsman's Contract," for example, gives only a limited sense of what watching the movie is like. As some of the reviews here have pointed out, you cannot watch "Contract" without noticing the perspective tools used by Mr. Neville. These technologies anticipate the optics used in photography and cinematography. As we are aware of how they contribute to 17th century draftsmanship we (in theory at least) recognize the construction of the very images we are viewing. In short, through these and other techniques, you are too aware of experiencing the film to become engrossed in it.
If you are not comfortable with such distancing, "The Draughtsman's Contract" may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, there is certainly "much to be applauded" in "The Draughtsman's Contract." As in virtually all of Greenaway's work, the visual design and cinematography are exquisite and all the more remarkable given the film was shot in 16mm.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Early Greenaway
This is a great example of Greeaway's early work. The Sound track is by Michael Nyman. Video is of mixed quality because Greenaway shot much of it on 16mm film but that only adds... Read more
Published 1 month ago by R. V. Clayton
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by John Lodin
2.0 out of 5 stars Bad sound
Bad sound on this copy. Spoiled our enjoyment

The movie does not age well, although it still has its moments.
Published 6 months ago by Exiled warrior
5.0 out of 5 stars Twisted
If you'd like to watch a guy have sex with a mother and daughter, and eventually knock one of them up- subsequentially causing his own murder, then this movie is for you!
Published 8 months ago by Mandolynn_30
4.0 out of 5 stars Best for the Scenery
Best for the Scenery.
Some parts were too long or somewhat repeated. Music was interesting. Scenery was great and trues to story.
Published 13 months ago by Marcoux
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably the most accessable of Greenaway's works
Peter Greenaway's maddening puzzle of a film, The Draughtman's Contract, involves us in a multi-layered, multi-themed murder mystery involving an artist and an entire cast of... Read more
Published on May 8, 2011 by Tristan
1.0 out of 5 stars DVD Zone
I was disappointed to discover that the version was for Zone 1 countries (US & Canada) even though I ordered the DVD via the Australian Amazon site. Read more
Published on November 16, 2009 by Noel R. Stone
4.0 out of 5 stars Vermeer meets Barthes
The Draughtsman's Contract was made near the very height of the post-structuralist semiotic orgy that infected France and Germany and, to a lesser extent, the intellectual circles... Read more
Published on January 29, 2009 by Allan M. Lees
3.0 out of 5 stars A Clever Little Picture
Fairly tame by Greenaway's standards, this costume drama about a man hired to create a series of drawings of an English country estate is neither particularly tedious or grotesque,... Read more
Published on January 7, 2009 by William McNeill
5.0 out of 5 stars "Your significance, Mr. Neville, is attributable to both innocence and...
We're in post Restoration England in 1694, and at a country estate filled with condescending, witty, superficial creatures dressed in heavy satins and lace, with chalk dusted... Read more
Published on July 19, 2008 by C. O. DeRiemer
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