nightwatching-feb-10thIn typical, witty and earthy Greenaway style, Nightwatching investigates Rembrandt’s demise, following his depiction of the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia in his masterpiece, The Nightwatch. The painting is thought to contain a clue to an unsolved murder that followed the manoeuvrings of the wealthy merchants portrayed, who then set about ruining the unapologetic painter, played convincingly by Martin Freeman. “Greenaway’s best film since Prospero’s Books in 1991″ – Philip French, The Observer. (Cert 18)
Dir: Peter Greenaway 136 mins Neth/UK 2007
This screening will start at 7.30 p.m.

Programme Notes

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Netherlands/UK 2007 136 minutes Cert. 18

We’re in Amsterdam in 1654 and Rembrandt (Martin Freeman) wakes from a nightmare in which he is blinded. In multiple flashbacks to 1642 he recalls how, when at the pinnacle of his career, he was persuaded by his pregnant wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle) to accept a commission to paint a group portrait of the thirty one members of the Amsterdam Musketeers’ Militia, a home guard of volunteers. We see his preparations: his research into previous military groups depictions, his field work seeing the soldiers practise and his experiments in composition. Unfortunately, the congenial captain of the Militia is shot dead, apparently by accident. Despite this, his replacement proceeds with Rembrandt’s commission.

As work continues, Rembrandt becomes disillusioned with the sitters and their pride, greed and hypocrisy. He hears of scandals involving them and also starts to suspect that the captain’s death was not accidental. With painter friends, he investigates so that he can work his accusation of murder into the layout of the painting. When it is unveiled, to general acclaim, his sitters understand it all too clearly and wreak their revenge.

Employing the techniques of experimental theatre, tonight’s film is one part of a multimedia presentation of Greenaway’s appreciation of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. In 2006, as part of the Rembrandt 400 celebrations at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (where Greenaway now lives), he exhibited an audio video installation – also called Nightwatching – extending over three of the museum’s rooms and identifying the guardsmen in the painting, placing it in a historical context and showing how it would have been painted. There was also a play of the same title about Rembrandt’s wife and mistresses. Subsequently, he made a video documentary (Rembrandt’s J’Accuse) that includes excerpts from tonight’s film. Nightwatching was filmed in 2006 and shown in film festivals in 2007 and 2008. It was released theatrically in a number of European countries in 2007 and 2008 but was not released in the UK until 2010.

The full title of the painting The Night Watch is Officers and others of the company of Captain Frans Bonning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch. The most celebrated painting in the Rijksmuseum, it advanced group portraiture by its uses of light and shade and the captured movement of its subjects. Curiously – until you have seen this film (perhaps!) – it includes a young girl carrying various Militia symbols. It can be examined in close-up via the Google Art Project:

Rembrandt van Rijn – Martin Freeman
Saskia – Eva Birthistle
Hendrickje – Emily Holmes
Geertje – Jodhi May
Marieke – Natalie Press
Marita – Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Rombout Kemp – Christopher Britton
Jacob de Roy – Krzysztof Pieczynski

Director – Peter Greenaway
Screenplay – Peter Greenaway
Cinematography – Reinier van Brummelen
Original Music – Wlodzimierz Pawlik
Producer – Kees Kasander

“If it came from a more commercial filmmaker, Nightwatching could be marketed as a cross between Shakespeare in Love and The Da Vinci Code, combining a lusty, down-to-earth portrait of a great artist and a secret meaning behind a famous painting. But Peter Greenaway, the English director of such lush and strange films as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and The Pillow Book, is nobody’s idea of a commercial director. His fans will appreciate this eccentric exercise in hypothetical art history.” Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail



“A most fitting and fine tribute in film art to the only painter who made me weep.”

“Beautiful and very clever – the man, Greenaway, is a genius.”

“This was truly a cinematic painting, crafted and executed in a subliminal fashion.”

“Totally gripping from start to finish”

“Visually stunning – moving figures in a still-life – Rembrandt in motion.”

“Stunning visually but I struggled a bit to work out which character was which.”

“Very impressive film. Frequently unclear, of course but why do films have to be ‘clear’?”

“Beautifully painterly but very difficult to follow. Couldn’t work out who was who amongst the militia.”

“Splendid, earthy de-bunking of high art’s pretentious interpretations. Marvellous synthesis of painted theatrical light into sumptuous film. Two faults :-

  1. 1. Martin Freeman was not disastrously wrong [in the part but not quite right [either].
  2. 2. The anachronistic music did not fit

And it was 30mins too long.”

“Looked great – made a point about honesty and art.”

“Very arty indeed – also very long. Very cleverly made but overlong and the soundtrack was too dependent on screechy violins.”

“Brilliantly, beautifully made but far too long. Artistic direction great but music hypnotically numbing.”

“A beautifully photographed film spoiled by some very incoherent dialogue and sub-plots. I think I need to see it again!”

“Definitely worth seeing once! Shame about the aspect ratio …”

“Very dark and not enjoyable at all – but still the man was inspired to create such masterpieces amidst this chaos.”

“Only partly successful. 17th century Amsterdam through a glass – very darkly.”

“Oh dear. Eccentric[ity] is all right in its place but you need some thing else as well.”

“Moving, ponderous [with] interesting lighting and filming – but … !!”

“Sumptuous images but, unlike most films, would not have benefited from the interjection of half a dozen commercial breaks advertising insurance or double glazing. This film was an exception – it needed a vector [diagram] not a score!”

“The scenes on the roof reminded me of Mary Poppins but boy can they do funerals in Amsterdam!”

“Disappointing, disjointed, incoherent, unpleasant [but], most of all, totally unlike the preview we had, alas. A few good spells.”

“OK, I got the point about Rembrandt’s lighting and the paintings but the novelty [soon] wore off. Script weak. The soft-porn stuff about the artist and [his] models was not surprising but still pretty obnoxious.”

“Much too long and slow. I had forgotten how lukewarm I am about Greenaway. Martin Freeman pretty poor; mis-cast, mis-directed [or] just bad acting?”

“I hated it!”

“What a crashing bore!”

“Martin Freeman was just too much like Bill Oddie to make this in any way enjoyable!”


A:16, B:16, C:11, D:7, E:2 to give 68%