Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
United Kingdom, 1982. British Film Institute, Channel Four Television. Screenplay by Peter Greenaway. Cinematography by Curtis Clark. Produced by David Payne. Music by Michael Nyman. Production Design by Bob Ringwood. Costume Design by Sue Blane. Film Editing by John Wilson.
Peter Greenaway’s first narrative film after his more experimental debut The Falls is a beautifully shot, at times tiresome tale of art and sex. Janet Suzman hires Anthony Higgins to come stay at her estate while her husband is away, asking him to make drawings of the grounds and manor and agreeing to provide him with sexual favours for every successful work of art achieved. He makes a negative impression on Suzman’s son-in-law, but at about the time that his benefactress grows tired of their contractual arrangement, her daughter steps in to make an agreement of her own with the artist, the combination of secrecy, adultery and imagery eventually leading to a very bad situation for him. The period costumes and Michael Nyman’s richly eccentric score contribute great visual pleasure to Greenaway’s humorous essay on the position of the artist in human society, a plaything of the privileged who is eventually blamed for their shortcomings. There is a lot of sharp and fascinating observation of the history and tradition of landscape gardening and its involvement in seventeenth-century art, but a number of scenes get long-winded towards the end.