Pierre Marteau's Publishing House



Peter Greenaway. GB 1982.

Produced by: Andrei Deryabin, Jens Meuer, Karsten Stoter

Sceenplay: Peter Greenaway
Cinematography: Curtis Clark
Music: Michael Nyman

Anthony Higgins (Mr. Neville)
Janet Suzman (Mrs. Herbert)
Anne Louise Lambert (Mrs. Tabuan)
Hugh Fraser (Mr. Talman)
Neil Cunningham (Mr. Noyes)
Dave Hill (Mr. Herbert)
David Grant (Mr. Seymour)
David Meyer (Poulene I)
Tony Meyer (Poulene II)


This is a most intricately-structured enigma of a film, one that seems on the surface to be ordinary, but underneath has many layers that need examining in detail from several viewings. The story is set in the English countryside in 1694. The prominent character is a draughtsman named Mr. Neville, who is asked by a lady named Mrs. Herbert to make twelve drawings of her house from different angles. He agrees, as long as he can have the lady for his intimate pleasure.

Mr. Neville is a perfectionist, and very meticulous in his drawings. He states to everyone at the house all his rules about everything that has to remain in the same place while he draws. The film moves along nicely, everything seems usual, then events start to become strange. Stone statues start to move around and take up different locations to contort into another static pose. Objects start to change location to confuse Mr. Neville in his drawings. Then Mrs. Herbert's daughter approaches Mr. Neville and tells him her father may have been murdered. She says she has evidence to indict Mr. Neville of his murder, and blackmails him, requesting his service for her sexual needs. Then Mr. Herbert's body is found in a ditch and things get even more complex.
This film is one of those that you need to watch and try and unravel yourself. To try to do that here in this review is almost impossible. I highly recommend it. It is exquisitely performed and filmed. The costumes are good. The speeches by the cast are delivered in a grandiose and statement-like manner. The music is appropriate. A classic piece of puzzling cinema that will have you watching it many times.


Erotische Sittenkomödie aus alter Zeit und spitzzüngige Gesellschaftssatire, rätselhafte Kriminalgeschichte und pointierter Essay über das Trügerische der scheinbar objektiven Wahrnehmung: der erste große Spielfilm von Peter Greenaway enthält diese unterschiedlichen Komponenten und noch mehr. Der elegante und arrogante Zeichner Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), der das englische Anwesen eines Landbarons (die Handlung spielt in der Barockzeit) auf zwölf Blättern festhalten soll, sieht ständig durch Rahmen: er kadriert gleichsam wie ein Kameramann, um den Überfluß des Lebens in die strenge Ordnung der Kunst einzupassen, Er sieht alles und doch nur die Oberfläche, er versteht zu wenig und zu spät. Da braucht man ihn, den bürgerlichen Künstler und Aufsteiger, nicht mehr. Die adelige Gesellschaft, die sich seiner bedient, bringt ihn am Ende um.

(Source: Filmklassiker. Beschreibungen und Kommentare. Ed. Thomas Koebner with Kerstin-Luise Neumann. Vol. 4, Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun., 1998.)


  • Screenplay: Greenaway, Peter, Meurtre dans un jardin anglais. In: L'Avant-Scène Cinéma Nr. 333 (1984)
  • Daniel Caux, a.o., Peter Greenaway, Paris 1987;
  • Peter Greenaway, Fear of Drowining by Numbers. Règles du jeu, Paris 1988
  • Peter Greenaway: The Physical Self. Rotterdam 1992
  • Agnès Berthin-Scaillet, Peter Greenaway. Fête et défaite du corps, in: L'Avant-Scène Cinéma Nr. 417/418 (1992/93)
  • Christiane Barchfeld, Filming by Numbers: Peter Greenaway. Ein Regisseur zwischen Experimentalkino und Erzählkino. Tübingen 1993.