Review: ‘The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover’

Peter Greenaway's grim sense of humor and cheerful assault on all our sacred cows is evident in this new outing from the iconoclastic filmmaker.

Peter Greenaway’s grim sense of humor and cheerful assault on all our sacred cows is evident in this new outing from the iconoclastic filmmaker.

Setting is a smart restaurant, La Hollan- daise, where Richard, the chef (Richard Bohringer) prepares a lavish menu every night. Among his regular customers are Albert Spica (Michael Gambon), a loudmouthed, vulgar, violent gangster, who dines with his entourage of seedy yes-men, and his bored, beautiful wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren).

At another table each night sits Michael (Alan Howard), a quiet, diffident man who’s always reading books. He and Georgina make eye contact, and soon they’re having a series of secret rendezvous. Eventually Albert discovers his wife’s infidelity, and takes a typically violent revenge, triggering a more unusual retaliation from her.

Albert is one of the ugliest characters ever brought to the screen. Ignorant, over-bearing and violent, it’s a gloriously rich performance by Gambon.

In contrast, Helen Mirren (in a role which was originally to have been played by Vanessa Redgrave) is all calm politeness and mute acceptance until her passion is aroused by the (far from handsome) Michael.

The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover

Netherlands - France

Production

Allarts/Erato/Films Inc. Director Peter Greenaway; Producer Kees Kasander; Screenplay Peter Greenaway; Camera Sacha Vierny; Editor John Wilson; Music Michael Nyman;; Art Director Ben Van Os, Jan Roelfs

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1989. Running time: 126 MIN.

With

Richard Bohringer Michael Gambon Helen Mirren Alan Howard Tim Roth Liz Smith
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