Drowning by Numbers deals with metaphorical game-playing of sex and death in the best traditions of black humor, all set in an idyllic English summer, and pays tribute to the games, landscape and especially a conspiracy of women.
Pic follows the darkly murderous acts of three women all named Cissie Colpitts (Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson and Joely Richardson) and their friend the local coroner Madgett (Bernard Hill) and his son Smut (Jason Edwards).
Pic opens with Plowright drowning her husband in a tin bath. The families and friends of the three murdered men suspect the three women of the killings and meet under a water tower.
When none of the three Colpitts women submit to Madgett’s sexual advances he decides to admit his part in the murders. But his gameplaying instincts take the better of him, and he organizes a game of tug-of-war between the conspirators and the women.
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As an aside Greenaway has placed the numbers 1-100 throughout the film (for example, 1 appears on a tree, 36 is on Joely Richardson’s swimsuit) – yet another exercise in game-playing and a challenge for the viewer to spot all the numbers. The acting is uniformly excellent.