Story: Cissie (Joan Plowright) has once again caught her husband being unfaithful, this time enjoying a bath time romp with another woman. While she isn’t shocked or even slightly surprised, this was the last straw for Cissie and she gently drowns her husband in the bath, then dispatches his mistress. She enlists the help of her daughters Cissie 2 (Juliet Stevenson) and Cissie 3 (Joely Richardson) to dispose of the mistress, then calls in a favor from the local coroner Madgett (Bernard Hill) to mask the true cause of her husband’s death. She promises romantic affection in exchange, which delights the lonely Madgett, but she seems unlikely to deliver on that promise. Aside from some light outside suspicion, it seems as if the crime will go unpunished, but drowning seems to run in this family…
Entertainment Value: A whimsical, surreal cinematic journey, Drowning by Numbers is a visual masterpiece that feels like a piece of high end, dreamlike art. I think you could pause most scenes in this picture and land on a beautiful composition, you can tell that immense attention and intention were put into every frame. I would easily rank this as one of the most gorgeous movies I’ve seen and I could get lost in the visuals, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. If you factor in Peter Greenaway’s counting game that is baked into the movie, you could certainly make a case for multiple viewings being needed in this case, as there is so much to experience here. At the same time, there is so much more here than just those incredible visuals, as we have remarkable, sharp dialogue and colorful characters, brought to life by a skilled ensemble of talent. I love the dialogue in Drowning by Numbers, it flows so naturally and has the dark, but whimsical vibe that permeates the rest of the production, a vibe which I think more or less defines this picture. The tone is light, even in the darkest of moments, but with a surreal texture that creates that kind of dreamlike atmosphere I mentioned before. I had a wonderful time with Drowning by Numbers and give it our highest of recommendations.
The cast here is spectacular, with a deep roster of talent and everyone seems in synch with the material, which is impressive, since it can be quite unusual at times. The general vibe is brisk and whimsical, which these performers capture and project as quite natural. This might have seemed too over the top in some hands, but I think the whimsy is at just the right levels here and while it can be surreal, I think the performances are excellent across the board. Joan Plowright is wonderful as the matriarch and the original drowner, giving a turn that has a wealth of charm. She seems so light and natural here, able to win us over, even as she dirties her hands in some fairly sadistic ways. Plowright exudes glee here, which is exactly what the material wants, since this is such an off balance (in a good way) experience. She is able to work with her costars so well and to me, she steals the show and has some of the most memorable moments here. The cast also includes Joely Richardson, Bernard Hill, Juliet Stevenson, and Jason Edwards.
The Disc: Severin Films’ new 4k scan from the original negative is put to good use here, as we have a beautiful ultra high definition treatment from the label. This UHD edition sparkles with detail and depth, which is crucial here, since the movie has such rich visuals to experience. Even the Blu-ray version looks excellent in this two disc release, but the UHD can be jaw dropping at times, it looks that remarkable. The extras kick off with one of the better audio commentaries I’ve listened to, as director Peter Greenaway goes in depth on Drowning by Numbers. He touches upon countless topics in the session, so you’ll learn a lot about not just this production, but Greenaway’s take on related topics as well. I loved hearing about how some of the film’s visuals were created, but the track as a whole is terrific. There is also a fifteen minute interview with Greenaway, a teen minute interview with star Bernard Hill, some concept art, a look at Greenaway’s cinematic game concepts, and Fear of Drowning, Greenaway’s short that could be considered a companion to the main feature.
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