The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)

An element of country-house murder mystery and a driving Michael Nyman score made this 17th-century puzzle a mainstream breakthrough for experimental filmmaker Peter Greenaway.

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Alternative titles

  • Meurtre Dans Un Jardin Anglais Alternative French
  • Der Kontrakt Des Zeichners Alternative German


“The screenplay is as dense with bossy epigrams as the magnificent English landscape is lush with foliage of every conceivable shade of green.”
Vincent Canby, The New York Times, 1982

In England in 1694, draughtsman Mr Neville (Anthony Higgins) is commissioned to make 12 drawings of a country estate by Mrs Herbert (Janet Suzman), the wife of its absent owner. In return he demands sexual as well as financial compensation. But as the project develops, incongruous objects begin to populate the vistas he is drawing, and the stratagem behind his employer’s acceptance of his terms comes to light.

Marking a leap in the direction of conventional drama by Peter Greenaway, The Draughtsman’s Contract is no mere murder mystery, but an exploration of fundamental aspects of English society – primogeniture, property and Protestantism – at the beginning of England’s global ascendancy.

Michael Nyman’s score – modern arrangements of 17th-century English composer Henry Purcell – launched his career as a soundtrack composer. His later film credits include The Piano (1992) and Man on Wire (2009).

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