Having declared the death of cinema with his Tulse Luper Suitcases cycle, Peter Greenaway revisits the silver screen with this lush, argumentative, overpacked biopic about Rembrandt’s creation of The Night Watch.
Martin Freeman’s chippy, cocky artist is riveting, as tender to dying wife Saskia (a knowing Eve Birthistle) as he is tricky with his militia patrons, whose hidden crimes of murder and brothel-keeping he’s hell-bent on revealing via clues in their group portrait.
But this gleefully didactic movie overreaches thanks to Greenaway’s determination to be the arthouse Dan Brown, cramming in a PhD’s-worth of Dutch history as well as details of Rembrandt’s troubled love-life.
Granted, there’s exhilarating and exquisite use of colour and light, the film’s opulent theatrical staging chiming wonderfully with Rembrandt’s dramatic canvas.
But if you’re looking for a great Greenaway conspiracy about a painter, the playful, elegant clarity of 1982’s The Draughtsman’s Contract still wins out.