Goltzius and the Pelican Company

* Peter Greenaway, 2012

Directed by Peter Greenaway
Produced by Kees Kasander, Mike Downey, Sam Taylor, Igor Nola & Catherine Dussart
 
In 1600, the Dutch engraver and printer Goltzius relates his adventures of ten years before in the winter of 1590 when he travelled in disguise to Colmar in Alsace on his way to Italy to find money to afford a new printing press to print illustrated books. He proposed to the liberal-minded Margrave of Alsace to make two grand illustrated books, a version of the Old Testament and a version of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. To sweeten the possibility of a deal, Goltzius, with the male and female members of his printing and theatrical company, stage six dramatisations of Old Testament erotic stories, symbolising the six sexual taboos of fornication, incest, adultery, pedophilia, prostitution and necrophilia - Adam & Eve, Lot & His Daughters, David & Bathsheba, Potiphar’s Wife, Samson & Delilah, and (from the New Testament) Salome & John the Baptist.
 
The frank dramatisations of these erotic stories invoke surprise, shock and controversy at the court and among the court ecclesiatics - a Roman Catholic, a Calvinist and a Jewish Rabbi - and the erotic pleasures tempt and entice the Margrave, his family, retinue and ecclesiastics to become sexually involved, which ends with the Goltzius playwright Boethius being beheaded as John the Baptist in a scandal that blackmails the Margrave, forcing him to pay for the printing press and order the commissioned books.
 
Back in the Hague ten years later, Goltzius, now a wealthy printer, has finally completed the commissioned books and is about to set out to deliver them to Colmar, and we discover with surprise that Goltzius is patently now a woman, caught in another and seventh parallel biblical erotic tale, a story of voyeurism with Susannah and the Elders where a woman is caught in a blackmail that demands sex with two judges or suffer imprisonment and death by beheading. Goltzius, it seems, has been living in male disguise to escape the persecution of two lawyers bent on seducing her, though, we may be forgiven for believing that perhaps the Goltzius who set out on the adventure ten years previously is now, after the murder of two licentious lawyers, not the same person who now returns to Colmar to deliver the commissioned books.