Peter Greenaway offers a masterclass in the intrigue behind Rembrandt's enigmatic painting of Amsterdam militia, The Night Watch, which he believes explains the drastic ignominy that befell the painter himself.
Wealthy and popular when he painted it in 1642, Rembrandt thereafter descended into poverty and disrepute. Unfortunately, this art history lesson is enclosed within a two-hour movie of near-stupefying tedium. Martin Freeman, stocky and stubbly, is not bad at all as the outspoken artist, and his grief over his dying wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle) is made convincingly raw. But his worsening relations with various Dutch noblemen and soldiers are staged in tableaux of exquisite vacancy, which Greenaway mistakenly believes can substitute for drama. His obsession with the nether regions is merely puerile, the equivalent of a graffitied cock and balls. If the story of the conspiracy depicted in The Night Watch could be excised from the film, it would make a fascinating half-hour documentary. As narrative cinema, however, it's a dead loss.