The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

Critics Consensus

This romantic crime drama may not be to everyone's taste, but The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is an audacious, powerful film.



Total Count: 39


Audience Score

User Ratings: 21,540
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Movie Info

This is probably Peter Greenaway's most famous (or infamous) film, which first shocked audiences at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and then on both sides of the Atlantic. A gang leader (Michael Gambon), accompanied by his wife (Helen Mirren) and his associates, entertains himself every night in a fancy French restaurant that he has recently bought. Having tired of her sadistic, boorish husband, the wife finds herself a lover (Alan Howard) and makes love to him in the restaurant's coziest places with the silent permission of the cook (Richard Bohringer). Though less cerebral than Greenaway's other films, featuring deadly passions reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedies of the early 17th century, the picture still offers the director's usual ironic and paradoxical comments on the relations between eating and sex, love and death. The film is at once funny and horrific, and those who are not used to Greenaway's peculiar style might be even disgusted or shocked; however, one might mention Sacha Vierny's brilliant camerawork, Jean-Paul Gaultier's gaudily stylized costumes, and Michael Nyman's somber, pulsating music, which will haunt the viewer long after the film's end. ~ Yuri German, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (9)

  • It's as if Greenaway had all this artistry, including his own, at his disposal and created nothing but a dead piece of meat, for no reason in particular--unless it's to express his contempt for his audience.

    Feb 26, 2019 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • For a Jacobean-style drama about deadly emotions, the film lacks passion; only in the final half-hour, with Michael Nyman's funereal music supplying a welcome gravity, does it at last exert a stately power.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A work so intelligent and powerful that it evokes our best emotions and least civil impulses, so esthetically brilliant that it expands the boundaries of film itself.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/4
  • Give or take another masterpiece coming down the pike, this intricately assembled, viscerally provocative tract on consumerism gone full and grisly circle, is without a doubt, the most accomplished, astounding film of the year.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…
  • Greenaway, the bemused, coolly ironic truth-teller, has painted a cruel portrait for a cruel time.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

  • Jan 05, 2016
    A gorgeous and stylized gem that will prove to be of hard digestion (yes, pun intended) for many viewers, but those with an open mind will find a lot more to it than "just" a magnificent score, cinematography, art direction and costume design (the game of colors is fantastic).
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Apr 15, 2014
    At first viewing of Peter Greenaway The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover I immediately realize that it's a powerful, visual film that uses each scene to really elevate the film's story. This is a blistering drama with some standout performances, and it's in the cast that makes for a truly engaging experience. The film tells a well constructed story that is fairly simple, but is engaging enough to be entertained for two hours. Michael Gambon delivers a performance that is intoxicating, and is a tremendous villain the film. The rest of the cast terrific as well and with that being said, each of them makes a truly unique contribution to Peter Greenaway's blistering and unforgettable tale. In terms of dramatic storytelling, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover tells a very good story, added with performances that really stand out, this is a very good film, but not one that is truly remarkable either. The cast make this film work and worth investing your time. Peter Greenaway's direction is dark and atmospheric and it adds so much to the film's story. The climax of the film is great as well, but like I said, it's not perfect, but for the most part, it works simply because of its cast that delivers some standout performances that truly bring out the best out of the film. I really enjoyed the film and I thought that despite a few flaws, this film is worth seeing, and if you enjoy a good story line matched with very good performance, then this film is a definite must watch for genre fans. I really enjoyed Greenaway's style and with that being said, he is able to take a simple idea, and make something truly elaborate in terms of cinematic vision. The film's biggest imperfection is the slow pacing the film, which may displease some, but to those that want a riveting drama, then The Cook, The Thief, his wife and her lover is a very good drama worth seeing despite its limitations.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Feb 15, 2014
    The Lover, the Cook, The Wife, The Thief  As seen immediately, in the film, The Cook, The Theif, The Wife & Her Lover takes great advantage of the use of color. The last film I can think of that uses color so overwhelmingly is Bergmans Cries and Whispers, where he drowns the audience with red. What I found stunning in this film was that the scenes were so beautiful while all taking place in-doors, in fact the only ugly scenes were the outdoor ones, which took barely any screen time.  This film features on of the greatest pricks in cinema history, Albert. Played by Michael Gambon, who absolutely blew me away. Albert surrounds himself with his arrogant sidekicks, but compared to him they're a set of nuns.  Peter Greenaway creates a true villain with Albert, one that no one can like or desire to imitate. Albert is a bully, rapist, and a misogynist, whose traits are greed & arrogance. Albert isn't just a smug rich man though, he definently has his deficiencies, which can be seen with his envy. There's a scene where Albert ruins one of his wives dishes as a practical joke, when he's done pouring wine on the expensive meal the camera cuts to showing the hard work of the chef and kitchen, which represents the destructive path Albert has.  The greatest scene of the film is when the affair begins in the restroom, and Albert comes in. Standing outside the stall the intensity reaches an all time high. It's interesting that Albert behaves at his worst in restrooms after this.  Greenaway has no taboos in this film, whether it's what's being discussed at the dinner table, which most people would never speak about... or what Albert does to others, which most people wouldn't even think about. Despite how disturbing this film is, there's solid black comedy, and even some light British humor. A moment that incoorporates the taboo and comedy elements is the gynecologist dinner table conversation.  The films idol is the chef. He makes Albert wait, while giving a beaten poor man immediate attention. He's also the only character to bring smart philosophy to the table, unlike Albert who just spits gibberish. Before cooking his shock of a dish, the chef speaks about the most expensive food: "black food". He's a hard worker yet speaks as if he's been still as Rodins "The Thinker". I fell in love with the cast: Bohringer, Hellen Miren, Tim Roth, Alan Howard, and Gambon all bring something unique to this movie. The whole cast comes together at the conclusion to bring the single greatest revenge scene, that even Tarantino (Kill Bill, Django Unchained) & Chan-Wook Park (Oldboy, Lady Vegenence) couldn't think of. Fascinating cinematic masterpiece. 
    Daniel D Super Reviewer
  • Sep 04, 2013
    Bold and elegant, though too extreme for my taste. It's really marvelous how the distasteful subject of cannibalism can be masked so well with gastronomy. First of all, I love the lighting and costumes, and how the colour of the costume changes as the lighting changes. The set design was extraorinary, it's so beautiful and lavishing, so well profuse and placed. The characters annoyed me greatly, I know that it's not meant to be convincing but as symbols, it still irritated me. The only thing I really dislike about the film was the stupid singing, it pissed me off several times that I wanted to smash the actor. Other than that, it's a great film for mature audience.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer

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