18 January 2017

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, 1989

Fig. 1 Poster
Peter Greenaway's 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover' (1989) is a very intense film, described as a 'No-Mercy Assault On The mind and senses' (Travers, 1990) by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. The film follows the story of the titular characters, as the wife falls for the lover. It contains some very disturbing scenes, some of which could be incredibly unsettling for the viewer, but the story and characters are still compelling. Roger Ebert comments that it is a 'deliberate and thoughtful film in which the characters are believable and we care about them' (Ebert, 1999).

The wife Georgina is abused by her husband Albert and finds herself drawn to another man named Michael. Their relationship is doomed and not long after they are discovered Albert has his men torture Michael to death. This violent and cruel act is one of many Albert inflicts on those around him, both during the film and in events occurring before its start, but it seems that this is the final straw for Georgina and she plans the ultimate revenge. Ebert comments that her 'character transformation is almost frightening' (Ebert, 1999). She grows in strength throughout the film, though she seems exhausted for much of it, and Greenaway ends the film strongly with her revenge.

Fig. 2 The Red Dining Room
Greenaway uses colour to create an exaggerated and theatrical atmosphere, with each set in the film having a different colour scheme. The red dining room (as see in Fig. 2) is perhaps the most striking of the sets used, with extravagant decorations and expensively dressed guests, the room has an intense atmosphere. Red is often used to represent desire and danger, both of which are certainly in abundance in this film, and this room is a very strong setting for some very intense scenes. The rich colours and strong lighting are two of several techniques used to give the film a theatrical feel. Elements of the costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier also change colour with the sets and this is most noticeable on Georgina’s outfits. For example, Fig. 3 shows Georgina in the bathroom of the restaurant, the room is very white and her outfit changes to match this. When she enters the room, she is away from Albert and can relax a little and this is reflected in the colour choice. Greenaway encourages the audience to engage with Georgina’s character and as the mood changes from room to room the audience is given a visual signal of the effect this has on her.

Fig. 3 The White Bathroom
Theatricality is present throughout the film and this allows Greenaway to make very dramatic changes in lighting a room to affect the mood of a scene. For example, Fig. 4 shows Albert in the red dining room in the final scene of the film. The room still looks menacing, but the subdued lighting and bluer tones work well to represent how Albert’s power is being taken from him. He is a violent and angry character, but this scene shows him realising that his power has limits, and that he has not gotten away with his cruelty.

Fig. 4 Different Lighting
Caryn James of the New York Times comments that 'the film is so imbued with art and artifice that when the camera pans from one set to another, it is obvious that the fourth wall does not exist.' (James, 1990). The excellent camera work and editing make the journey from room to room seem seamless, even with the many costume changes, and the musical themes match with the camera panning. The score was composed by Michael Nyman, and works very well to emphasise the emotion and intensity of events in the narrative (Wert, 1990:45). The theatricality and artifice of the film make it incredibly striking and the score is described by James as adding ‘an immeasurable depth of feeling’. (James, 1990).


Ebert, R (1999) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-cook-the-thief-his-wife-and-her-lover-1999 (Accessed on 04.01.17)

James, C (1990) Review/Film; Peter Greenaway's Elegant and Brutal 'Cook'. At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C0CE4DE1F3DF935A35757C0A966958260 (Accessed on 04.01.17)

Travers, P (1990) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. At: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/the-cook-the-thief-his-wife-and-her-lover-19900406 (Accessed on 04.01.17)

Wert, W (1990) 'Review: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover by Peter Greenaway, Kees Kasander' In: Film Quarterly 44 (2) p. 45 [Online] At: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1212658?seq=4#page_scan_tab_contents (Accessed on 04.01.17)

Illustration List

Fig. 1 Poster
Greenaway, P (1989) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover [Poster] At: http://www.joblo.com/posters/images/full/1990-the-cook-the-thief-his-wife-and-her-lover-poster2.jpg (Accessed on 18.01.17)

Fig. 2 The Red Dining Room
Greenaway, P (1989) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover [Film Still] At: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m1k8duTW7h1qmf7lmo1_1280.png (Accessed on 18.01.17)

Fig. 3 The White Bathroom
Greenaway, P (1989) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover [Film Still] At: http://dazedimg.dazedgroup.netdna-cdn.com/786/azure/dazed-prod/1060/9/1069891.jpg (Accessed on 18.01.17)

Fig. 4 Different Lighting
Greenaway, P (1989) The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover [Film Still] At: http://i.imgur.com/TzP1g3Q.jpg (Accessed on 18.01.17)


  1. And another excellent one :)
    'Enjoyed' is probably the wrong word...but it certainly sounds as though you appreciated it!

    1. Thank you, Jackie :)
      Appreciate is a good word for it!