Nightwatching (R18)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/03/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 132 mins

Beautifully shot, superbly written and featuring a terrific central performance from Martin Freeman, this is by turns funny, chilling and fascinating and marks a return to form for Peter Greenaway.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway, Nightwatching is set in Amsterdam in 1642, where the Dutch painter Rembrandt (Martin Freeman), urged on by his pregnant wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle), reluctantly agrees to paint the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia in a group portrait that will later come to be known as The Night Watch. However, when Rembrandt uncovers various shady dealings amongst the portrait's wealthy subjects (including a possible murder plot), he decides to accuse them by filling the painting with allusive details, thus putting his own life in danger.

The Good
Martin Freeman is terrific as Rembrandt, delivering an engaging, earthy performance that will probably surprise people who only know him as 'Tim from The Office' (although, fair warning, you will also see his balls). He generates markedly different but no less compelling chemistry with each of the women in his life (Birthistle, Jodhi May, Emily Holmes and Natalie Press – all excellent) and is utterly convincing both in moments of tenderness and of furious anger.

The script is excellent – the dialogue is witty and Greenaway does an excellent job of talking you through the various allusions in the painting without making it seem like you're getting a guided tour at the National Gallery. The story of the painting is genuinely fascinating (there are shades of Hamlet) and the film makes the intriguing observation that The Night Watch is essentially a work of theatre.

The Great
Greenaway's films have always played with allusions to famous paintings and he gives that urge full reign here, with Reinier van Brummelen's gorgeous cinematography, lighting and framing resembling many of Rembrandt's works. Needless to say, the film demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, because each frame is packed with details that will go unnoticed on DVD.

Worth seeing?
Nightwatching is a superbly directed, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted drama that's by turns gripping, fascinating and darkly funny. As such it's an unmissable treat for Greenaway fans. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/02/2020 10:32

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