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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) | Peter Greenaway’s modern-day revenger’s tragedy is a visual art feast for cine gourmands

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

Filmmaker Peter Greenaway was at his peak when he made this 1989 art-fuelled black comedy drama about boorish London gangster Albert Spica (Michael Gambon), whose barbaric nature lead to murder, torture and cannibalism being served up in a über high-class restaurant.

Shot with a lavish chiaroscuro eye to the Dutch masters and Caravaggio, against primary coloured sets of red, green, white and blue, and adorned in the bondage costuming of Jean Paul Gautier, this operatic tragi-comedy is Greenaway’s cinematic pièce de résistance, and the fifth in his 1980s cannon that he shot on film before turning to experimenting with video (with mixed results).

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

Gambon’s corpulent ‘thief’, who has pretensions of being a gourmet, is a brilliantly repulsive analogy of the consumerism that dominated 1980s British politics and society under Thatcher; while Helen Mirren’s battered ‘wife’ Georgina and Alan Howard’s erudite bookworm ‘lover’ both mirror the struggle of creative forces under a regime that favours money above all else.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

Indeed, every screening of this coldly erotic masterpiece brings with it a new reading; such is Greenaway’s mastery – not only with the stunning visuals (shot by the legendary Sacha Vierny), but also with some scatological humour that puts a gleefully ghoulish spin on the old adage: ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’.

And topping it all, of course, is Michael Nyman’s haunting death march, Memorial, which closes the film over 12 brilliantly-executed minutes. It also makes it a great companion piece to Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973). Lust… Murder… Dessert. Bon Appetit!

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

‘Try the cock, Albert. It’s a delicacy, and you know where it’s been’

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is out on Blu-ray from Fabulous Films in the UK, featuring the 104-minute cut.


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