The Draughtsman’s Contract is an 1982 film by Peter Greenaway that contains elements of the country house murder mystery, transported to the 17th century. It is, of course, much more than a whodunit, though it’s amusing to note that one of the central characters, Mr Talman (son-in-law of Mr Herbert, who owns the house)is played by Hugh Fraser, better known to us as Poirot’s naïve sidekick Captain Arthur Hastings.
The contract that the eponymous draughtsman, Mr Neville, is asked to enter into with the lady of the house (played by Janet Suzman) during her husband’s absence involves his producing twelve drawings of the Herbert house and grounds, but he insists on being granted twelve sexual favours as a condition of agreeing to the project.
It gradually becomes apparent that strange things are happening while the draughtsman undertakes his commission – not least the antics of a mysterious ‘living statue’. And it becomes ever more clear as the film goes on that not only is Mr Herbert dead, but that, far from being in control of events, Neville is a dupe. The ending is quite horrific.
This is a film that requires careful watching, and I’m not sure I paid it all the attention it deserved – a drawback of late night televiewing. I’d like to see it again to gain a better understanding of some of Greenaway’s sub-texts. Michael Nyman’s soundtrack has been much praised, as has Greenaway’s cinematic skill. Some may call this film pretentious – it’s absolutely not an ‘action thriller’ – but it’s undeniably intriguing.