UK movie (1982). British Film Institute/Channel 4. Pr David Payne. Dir Peter Greenaway. Screenplay Greenaway. Starring Neil Cunningham (Thomas Noyes), Michael Feast (Statue), Hugh Fraser (Louis Talmann), Anthony Higgins (R. Neville), Anne Louise Lambert (Sarah Talmann), Janet Suzman (Mrs Virginia Herbert). 108 mins. Colour.
Perhaps Greenaway's best-known example of genre-crossing. It is 1694. The draughtsman Neville is hired by Mrs Herbert to produce 12 drawings of the family estate, Anstey, as a gift to her husband, who departs for a fortnight's womanizing in Southampton; Neville's fee, formalized in a Contract, is £8 per drawing, full board and lodging, and the daily sexual favours of Mrs Herbert. Neville delights in his domination, but underestimates the ingenuity of both her and especially her daughter, Sarah Talmann, the frustrated wife of an impotent boor; both women, unknown to him, seek an heir to Anstey. Mrs Talmann points out to Neville that extraneous details in his drawings seem to point to a plot injurious to the still-absent Herbert, and persuades him to enter a contract whereby he has daily Sex with her, too. Herbert's corpse turns up in the pond, and accusations fly. Yet all seems to have blown over when Neville returns to Anstey to make a 13th drawing. He is seduced yet again by Mrs Herbert, and she and Mrs Talmann explain how they have manipulated him; they then manipulate the men of the household into murdering him.
Aside from the Magic Realism infused into this chilly movie by direction and camerawork – and not least by the brittle dialogue – TDC's primary fantasy component concerns an anonymous male nude who, his body blacked appropriately, poses habitually as different parts of the estate's statuary; only the servants, a child and Neville actually see this man, the other characters being too lost in their own artificial Perceptions to observe him. In turn, the "statue" is an observer of all that proceeds; yet, like an Elemental, he plays no part in the mortals' games beyond passive observation. [JG]