Movie Details

Peter Greenaway wrote and directed this typically surreal and iconoclastic black comedy. Three generations of women who share the same name -- 63-year-old Cissie Colpitts (Joan Plowright), her daughter Cissie Colpitts II (Juliet Stevenson), and granddaughter Cissie Colpitts III (Joely Richardson) -- have all discovered the same way of dealing with their marital problems. The senior Cissie has drowned her husband Jake (Bryan Pringle) in the bathtub, her daughter sent her spouse Hardy (Trevor Cooper) to a watery grave in the ocean, and the youngest Cissie sent her husband Bellamy (David Morrissey) down in a swimming pool. Needless to say, local coroner Henry Madgett (Barnard Hill) has some questions about this sudden rash of drownings among the Colpitts husbands, and again all three women respond in the same way: they promise to sleep with Henry in exchange for recording the deaths as accidental (though none of the Cissies make good on this promise). When the local gossip mill begins working overtime about this sudden rash of water-related deaths, Henry's teenage son Smut (Jason Edwards) comes to the aid of the Cissies and organizes a tug-of-war, with he and the Colpitts women on one side and the doubting townspeople on the other (and, of course, a river in the middle). Along the way, Greenaway often stops to contemplate his obsessions with literature, astronomy, and numbers. Drowning by Numbers was released in Europe in 1988, but didn't find its way to American screens until 1991, following the success of Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi