Seen on the Green - Peter Greenaway OBE

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This is an area centric biography on Peter Greenaway OBE, one of many famous people to come from Chingford, North-East London. This article was originally published in The Chingford Directory in August 2012.

Submitted: October 23, 2015

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Submitted: October 23, 2015




Seen on the Green

Famous Faces From Chingford

by Councillor Thom Goddard, Chingford Historical Society member.


This Month: Peter Greenaway CBE


Film may be an art form but can a motion picture be a work of art? Certainly film is a very visual and emotive medium filled with hidden values. So can one mix the elements of painting and movie making as ‘we somehow expect cinema to provide us with meaning, to console us. But that’s not the purpose of art’1. Growing up in Chingford, celebrated, avant-garde film director Peter Greenaway understands the combination.


Peter Greenaway’s father was an East End builder’s merchant and his mother a teacher. However, he was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, on 5th April 1942 as the family had escaped the London Blitz. When Peter was 3 years old, the Greenaway family returned to London and settled in Chingford. At an early age Peter decided he wanted to be a painter but while studying at Forest School, Snaresbrook, he saw Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and became fascinated by film.


In 1962, Greenaway studied as an artist at Walthamstow College of Art, in the same class as New Wave legend Ian Dury. He went to work as an artist for the Office of Information, however, ended up working as a film director creating short, artistic films on 1960s and 1970s Britain. Peter’s art work continued to take a back seat from 1980 as he made his first feature film, ‘The Falls’, with music provided by Old Chingfordian Michael Nyman. Although not a commercial success, this movie lead to Peter being given the money to make ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ (1982), one of his best known films. The critics said “‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ put English art films back on the map”2.


In 1988, Peter released his most controversial and commercially successful feature ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’. Starring (now Dame) Helen Mirren and (now Sir) Michael Gambon, the film’s graphic violence and nudity combined with lavish cinematography thrust Peter Greenaway into international stardom.


The visually spectacular ‘Prospero’s Books’ (1991) and Cannes Film Festival choice ‘8½ Women’ (1999) keep Peter Greenaway’s name in lists of the greatest film directors of all time. While his latest art work ‘Wedding at Cana’, in Milan in 2009, has seen his painting again shine through with critics saying ‘Peter Greenaway has shown himself once again to be one of the greatest artists of our time’3. Keep a look out for any artists, film-makers or both you meet in the Mount or have seen on the Green!


Peter Greenaway 1996

Peter Greenaway: Il cinema delle Idea by Alessandro Bencivenni and Anna Samueli, 1996

Peter Greenaway Biography from The European Graduate School online

© Copyright 2019 Thom Goddard. All rights reserved.

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