Peter Greenaway’s The Baby of Macon is all fluff and no filling. Visually sumptuous and laden with religious refs and Brechtian devices, this elaborate but overlong film-of-a-play about the birth of a 17th-century miracle-child and his short-lived period of grace plays like a tired rerun of the director’s previous extravaganzas.
Entire film takes place in a single giant set that includes audience and performers, gathered for an elaborate theatrical masque to celebrate fertility – the community is plagued by barrenness, seen as God’s punishment for letting the local cathedral fall into disrepair.
The miracle-child quickly becomes an icon for the region’s barren mothers, and one of its sisters (Julia Ormond) uses the window of opportunity to claim to be its rightful mother. The fact she’s still a virgin doesn’t cramp her style.
While Greenaway’s previous movies have been a cornucopia of challenging ideas and intellectual jeux, this one quickly starts going round in circles once the board has been laid out. Still, as a master of the ornate Greenaway is firing on all cylinders.