Drowning by Numbers
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The film's plot centers on three women — a grandmother, mother and daughter — each named Cissie Colpitts. As the story progresses each women successively drowns her husband.
The three Cissie Colpittses are played by Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson, and Joely Richardson. Bernard Hill plays the coroner Madgett, who is cajoled into covering up the three crimes. The structure, with similar stories repeated three times, is reminiscent of a fairy tale. The link to folklore is further established by Madgett's son Smut, who recites the rules of various unusual games played by the characters as if they were ancient traditions. Many of these games are invented for the film, including:
- Bees in the Trees
- Dawn Card Castles
- Deadman's Catch
- Flights of Fancy (or Reverse Strip Jump)
- The Great Death Game
- Hangman's Cricket
- The Hare and Hounds
- Sheep and Tides
The musical score is by Michael Nyman, and is entirely based on themes taken from the slow movement of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K364. Nyman had previously used this piece as the basis for part of the score for Greenaway's The Falls. It is heard in its original form immediately after each drowning.
Number-counting, game rules and the plot's repetitions are devices that emphasize structure and symmetry in Drowning by Numbers.