Nightwatching (2007)



Director:     Peter Greenaway.

Starring:     Martin Freeman (Rembrandt van Rijn),  Emily Holmes (Hendrickje),  Eva Birthistle (Saskia),  Jodhi May (Geertje),  Toby Jones (Gerard Dou),  Jonathan Holmes (Ferdinand Bol),  Michael Teigen (Carel Fabritius),  Kevin McNulty (Engelen),  Agata Buzek (Titia Uylenburgh),  Natalie Press (Marieke),  Fiona O'Shaughnessy (Marita).

Rembrandt around the time of his The Night Watch that is portrayed as telling the story of a murder conspiracy Rembrandt uncovered



Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire movie. Some curse words included.

Rembrandt has a terrible nightmare that men gouged his eyes and he was blinded. His servant Hendrickje Stoffels comes to him and he is very relieved to find out it was just a nightmare. He says he was watching the night. He was nightwatching.

His wife Saskia has her accounts. She says that Visscher has a list of twelve officers interested in having their portraits done in a group portrait. They will pay 60 guilders each. Rembrandt says he isnít going to do it. He takes the position that painting soldiers will leave him blind and fingerless.

Rembrandt meets the leaders of the militia group, Captain Piers Hasselburg, and another officer known as Lt. Jean Egremont. They say they have an opportunity for a portrait at this occasion of the arrival of Mary Stuart, daughter of the King of England. Her father is in danger of losing his throne to Parliament. Mary is here to arrange some loans for him.

Saskia says Rembrandt lives in her kitchen with servants from Leeuwarden, Friesland (at the top of Holland) all around him. And she is pregnant with his child. Rembrandt meets Sgt. Rombout Kemp. He is the head of an orphanage and asks for a donation.  Rembrandt is suspicious of him. 

Rembrandt goes to a museum with others to look at other group portraits. He is interested in knowing how much money was earned for some of the portraits. Rembrandt says that the painting will take nine months.

Rembrandtisays that Saskia Van Uylenburgh is a cousin of Hendrick Uylenburgh, who was Rembrandtís dealer and patron for eight years. They met in a church in Amsterdam. He didnít like her at first. They married. They are having a baby. Saskia was very good at keeping the books. And she was a great companion.

He meets a young woman name Marieke who tells him that she can get him a baby, boy or girl. Her father, Rombout Kemp, charges more for boys.

Rembrandt is working on a group painting and his wife is brought in her four post bed with her baby to watch. The baby will be known as Titus Van Rijn.

Saskia is still not feeling her best. She says she is still bleeding down there when she should already be mended.

Miss Kemp brings Rembrandt two girl babies. He says he once had two daughters. Both were named Cornelia. They died.

Rembrandt has a bit of trouble getting together the men and women for a group portrait at a long table. He tells Saskia that he will do the portrait of the militia.

Miss Kemp says that men come to the orphanage and have sex with the 13 year old girls. Rembrandt asks her about the bruise on her face. Itís there because she refused to do what Judith has already done with men.

Saskia is still bed-ridden and Rembrandt is disturbed by this turn of events. She asks him what will he do when she dies? He doesnít like that question. They talk about the painting The Militia. He says that hypocritical lecherous old wolf militiaman Kemp should be castrated.  He is using the orphanage as a child brothel. And militiaman Engelen buys houses, burns them down and collects the insurance money. Visscher said he wouldnít, but he is selling tobacco and forcing down the price. And Borst tells him that he is giving away military secrets. The enemy will be able to learn how to load the new muskets. So he has decided to paint the muskets held upside down. Saskia laughs.

Someone has shot Hasselburg and he is dead! At the wake someone tells Rembrandt that he could be a witness, referring to his painting of the militia. He sees the son Carl Hasselburg who likes Rembrandtís favorite servant, Hendrickje. Rembrandt asks him where is his fatherís friend Egremont? Carl says he is gone. The new captain will be Frans Banning Cocq, Lord of Purmerend and Lependam.

Miss Kemp reports that her father scalded her sister Maritaís face horribly because she was having sex with a boy named Horatio.

Rembrandt speaks with militia member Bloemfeldt, who is an actor. He is watching over Egremontís house while he is away.

The gossip of the day is that Frans Banning Cocq is in love with Willem van Ruytenburch.  Rembrant speaks with the couple about the painting. Frans says that his brother-in-law, Andries de Graeff, threw the glove so to speak at Rembrandt as a challenge. The man pulled out of his portrait. Rembrandt reminds the Captain that his brother-in-law lost his case in court against him.

Some of the militia men bring a pretty black woman from Africa to Rembrandt as sort of a bribe to get a good position for themselves in The Militia. Rembrandt asks them where is Egremont? They donít really know. They think, since he has disgraced himself, he is abroad. Rembrandt asks another militia man named Jongkind about Egremont and the fellow says that it was Egremont who ordered Hasselburg to be shot.

Rembrandt uses his friends and sets up a firing range of sorts to think through the murder of Hasselburg. Some say that Egremont is with Engelen in Virginia and Engelen wants a slice of the Virginia tobacco market. Rembrandt thinks that Egremont had nothing to do with the death of Hasselburg and he must paint him into the picture.

Rembrandt learns from servants that the shot may have been fired by the 12 year old boy Horatio Aiken. He was out that day shooting. Marita said that when he returned he was very upset and shivering. Jongkind and others told him to keep his mouth shut about what happened. Horatio is now on a boat belonging to Engelen somewhere off the Azores. Marita said that Horatio was forced to do the militiaís task. Kemp tried to blame Horatio for so badly scalding Maritaís face. Rembrandt says he will include Horatio in the painting, but in name only. This will tell the conspirators that they know who Horatio is.

A militiaman named Will tries to sexually assault Hendrickje, but Rembrandt is able to stop him. They get into a big argument. Rembrandt says that the manís father purchased a noble title for him from a nowhere place.

Carl asks Hendrickje if he could see her. She tells him that she is often in the garden and he could come watch her working.

Saskia tells her husband that she wants him to remarry after she is gone. He says he will not remarry. She insists that he take good care of their son, or she will come back from the grave and haunt him. She doesnít want him to end up in that Kemp orphanage where the clients had sex with Horatio.

Saskia asks Rembrandt if he is near to finishing the painting? He says yes. She says good, then she can go. She tells him where the money is she has put away for him and Titus and she wants him to get servant Geertje to put her in woolens for the funeral. She makes her husband cry.

One day Egremont just shows up to talk with Rembrandt. He tells Rembrandt that he was drunk that day but he was not at the murder scene. He and the washerwomen got so drunk that they all ended up on the floor. He gave no order to fire, but Cocqís brother-in-law Clement Coq did. Cocq is besotted with Willem and Willem, with Floris and Clement, set up the order to fire. Willem will get the lieutenant position out of this. He says that now they all can be blackmailed.

Rembrandt is drawing a portrait of Saskia after her death. He ends up crying by her body.

Carl tells Rembrandt that he wants him to take his portrait out of the painting. He says Rembrandt is disreputable. He is old enough to be Hendrickjeís grandfather. Rembrandt talks with him and tells him to be friends with Hendrickje again. He tells Carl to kiss the young woman and then he must leave. He kisses her on the cheek. Hendrickje kisses him on the lips.

The wake is held for Saskia. Rembrandt cries again. Hendrick Uylenburgh tells Rembrandt that he has seen the portrait and he is in deep trouble because of it. He must start the painting anew. He says: "You are painting your death warrant!" And, Hendrick says, he will go down with the rest of them. Rembrandt curses him and calls him a: "Fucking queer fat Polish cunt!" He adds: " Fuck off!"

The painting is formally unveiled. Rembrandt says that he and this painting accuse the gentlemen in it for the paintingís major sound, a musket shot. And he accuses them of murder. The accused ignore the accusation and belt out myriads of complaints of how they were portrayed in the painting.

A critic named De Roy points out that the painting is a satire of the men, almost comic. But the context of the painting will be forgotten with time anyway. And what did he accomplish? The death of Hasselburg was declared accidental and these kinds of deaths in the militia are quite common. Furthermore, Rembrandt should watch out for surely many of the men will want to settle a score with him for his painting them in an unflattering light.

The militiamen complain that he has made the militia look incompetent and like a bunch of fairies who canít even hold their muskets correctly. Captain Cocq says that the painting will stand in the Militia Hall and everyone will say how much they like it! In three weeks the painting will be forgotten. But the men still say they want revenge, to ruin Rembrandt totally.

A few months after the death of his wife, Rembrandt says he saw his wifeís servant Geertje taking off some of her clothes to wash. He liked what he saw and they connected. Saskia liked her. She both came from Leeuwarden and both spoken Friesian together. And Titus liked her. She takes off her shirt and corset exposing her breasts and puts on a cloak that Rembrandt wraps around her shoulders.

He says she had been married before to a soldier. Rembrandt has a lot of sex with Geertje to help him forget Saskia. He became obsessed with her body. He wanted to paint himself as a transgressor violating his servant.

Men walk through the Kemp orphanage picking out girls to have sex with. Two of them pick out Marita. Up on the roof, Marieke tells Rembrandt that she is her fatherís scullery maid now. She had her fatherís baby, but it didnít have any legs and it died. Geertje comforts her. The poor young woman then kills herself by jumping off the roof.

Rembrandt grows tires of Geertje saying that she has exhausted her entire store of sexual novelties. And, he says, she neglects Titus who has fleas and worms. Rembrandt leaves the room. Geertje cries.

Hendrick Uylenburgh tells Rembrandt about the murder of Hasselburg. The original contract for the painting came form Hasselburg and Egremont, who then went to Visscher and Kemp to arrange it. The other militiamen joined in. And, finally, the Banning Cocqs moved in. They wanted to meet Mary Stuart and to help in the pawning of the English Crown jewels. To put themselves in the best light they wanted to lead the militia. So Hasselburg and the inseparable Egremont had to go. Kemp blackmailed Horatio to do the killing. Heinrich says he got implicated in the plot. Rembrandt then started figuring the rest out and now they want to ruin both him and Rembrandt.

The facially-scarred Marita asks Rembrandt to paint her and make her beautiful again. Hendrickje, who is with Rembrandt now, explains to her that Rembrandt has not painted since the death of Saskia.

Rembrandt tells Hendrickje a secret. He has a lazy eye. Rembrandt takes her gown off leaving her naked. They have sex on the bed.

And now Rembrandt describes Hendrickje as previously he had described Geertje. Hendrickje is twenty years younger than he. It started when she came up on the roof with only her night gown on and holding a candle in one hand.

De Roy talks to Rembrandt again about his militia painting. This time he is more admiring of it, even though he still says it disappointed his clients. He says the painting is a work of the theater.

The militiamen still plot against Rembrandt. The news of the day is that the English Civil War has started. At night on the street they beat him up. Rembrandt cries out that he cannot see, that he is blinded. When Hendrickje sees him, he asks if this is another nightmare. No, this is real.

He tells Hendrickje not to die on him. She says she is alive and also has life in her belly.

De Roy says that the militiamen knew their guilt. But they worked to destroy Rembrandt and to convince everyone that the paining was just of a bunch of exuberant soldiers rallying for musket practice. Of course, Rembrandt knew better.


Good movie.  The story behind the painting isn't true but it does make for an interesting mystery story.  And much of the biographical information about the famous painter in the film is true.  Martin Freeman was very good as Rembrandt. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See Rembrandt (1936).


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