Thursday, 12 December 2013

Drowning By Numbers (1988)

Drowning By Numbers is a typically weird and wonderful, dark, adult and surreal fairytale from celebrated British auteur Peter Greenaway.

The imagery and cinematography is, as ever, superb; summery still life paintings brought to life, with an air of Kit Williams in the playful, folkloric and quintessentially rustic British proceedings. 

The whole film revolves around games, numbers and repetition.  A grandmother (Joan Plowright) her daughter (Juliet Stevenson) and her niece (Joely Richardson) are each named Cissie Colpitts and will each successively and fatally drown their husbands (Bryan Pringle, Trevor Cooper and David Morrissey) as the film progresses. 

A mercurial, bearded Bernard Hill plays the game playing village coroner Madgett. Like the tale of the Billy Goats Gruff, Madgett, upon being persuaded into covering up each crime, approaches each woman as a bigger, greater reward for his complicity as he tries his luck romantically with them all.

Meanwhile, Madgett's son Smut alternates between reciting the rules for the allegedly ancient traditional games depicted in the film and becoming obsessed with circumcision as he befriends a skipping girl memorising the stars in the night sky.

Of the trio of women it is perhaps Juliet Stevenson who gives the most interesting performance. Naturally quirky, she's an actress who always impresses me and this is indeed one of her strongest turns. I cannot say the same for Richardson who whilst adequate enough seems to offer little other than moments of coquettishness mixed with ingenue behaviour - a staple of hers I find.

A very Midsummery film, Drowning By Numbers is scored by Greenaway's regular composing collaborator Michael Nyman and shoots Suffolk beautifully. It's sometimes hard to score/rate Greenaway, as pieces of art they are sublime - and this is no exception - but as films it is often much harder to judge. Drowning By Numbers is again no exception, but as a film experience, it's safe to say you'll never see anything quite like this.

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