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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Greenaway
Produced by Pascale Dauman
Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Kees Kasander
Denis Wigman
Written by Peter Greenaway
Starring Richard Bohringer
Michael Gambon
Helen Mirren
Alan Howard
Tim Roth
Music by Michael Nyman
Cinematography Sacha Vierny
Edited by John Wilson
Distributed by Palace Pictures (UK)
Miramax Films (US)
Release dates
  • 11 September 1989 (1989-09-11) (TIFF)
  • 1 November 1989 (1989-11-01) (France)
  • 6 April 1990 (1990-04-06) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes[1]
95 minutes (Edited cut)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $7,724,701[2]

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a 1989 British-French romantic black comedy crime drama film written and directed by Peter Greenaway, starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard in the titular roles. The film's graphic scatological, violent and nude scenes, as well as its lavish cinematography and formalism, were noted at the time of its release.


English gangster Albert Spica has taken over the high-class Le Hollandais Restaurant, run by French chef Richard Boarst. Spica makes nightly appearances at the restaurant with his retinue of thugs. His oafish behavior causes frequent confrontations with the staff and his own customers, whose patronage he loses, but whose money he seems not to miss.

Forced to accompany Spica is his reluctant, well-bred wife, Georgina, who soon catches the eye of a quiet regular at the restaurant, bookshop owner Michael. Under her husband's nose, Georgina carries on an affair with Michael with the help of the restaurant staff. Ultimately Spica learns of the affair, forcing Georgina to hide out at Michael's book depository. Boarst sends food to Georgina through his young employee Pup, a boy soprano who sings while working. Spica tortures the boy before finding the bookstore's location written in a book the boy is carrying. Spica's men storm Michael's bookshop while Georgina is visiting the boy in hospital. They torture Michael to death by force-feeding him pages from his books. Georgina discovers his body when she returns.

Overcome with rage and grief, she begs Boarst to cook Michael's body, and he eventually complies. Together with all the people that Spica wronged throughout the film, Georgina confronts her husband finally at the restaurant and forces him to eat a mouthful of Michael's cooked body. Spica obeys, gagging, before Georgina shoots him in the head.


  • Richard Bohringer as Richard Boarst, "The Cook": The head chef of "Le Hollandais". He resents Albert Spica, who has taken control of the restaurant.
  • Michael Gambon as Albert Spica, "The Thief": A violent gangster and owner of "Le Hollandais," with pretensions of being a gourmet, but his coarse and violent behavior wreaks destruction on everyone around him.
  • Helen Mirren as Georgina Spica, "The Wife": The sophisticated and battered wife of Albert Spica, from whom she has unsuccessfully tried to escape.
  • Alan Howard as Michael, "The Lover": An erudite bookshop owner who dines at "Le Hollandais" every night while reading a book. He carries on a doomed affair with Georgina.
  • Tim Roth as Mitchel, a dim-witted goon in Spica's gang.
  • Ciarán Hinds as Cory, a pony-tailed pimp who is ejected from Spica's gang after he protests Spica's brutal treatment of his girls.
  • Gary Olsen as Spangler, a brutal member of Spica's gang.
  • Ewan Stewart as Harris, a less brutal member of Spica's gang.
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Turpin, the bespectacled book-keeper in Spica's gang.
  • Liz Smith as Grace, Spica's mother, somnolent and no more suited to the enjoyment of fine dining than her son.
  • Ian Dury as Terry Fitch, in a rare acting appearance, as a rival gangster.
  • Diane Langton as May Fitch, Terry's wife.
  • Paul Russell as Pup, a kitchen boy who brings food to Georgina and Michael while they are in hiding at Michael's bookshop. He is a boy soprano who sings while washing dishes.
  • Emer Gillespie as Patricia, one of Cory's luckless girls who tells Spica about his wife's affair.
  • Ron Cook as Mews, a bespectacled member of Spica's gang.
  • Alex Kingston as Adele, a red dressed waitress at the restaurant.
  • Roger Lloyd-Pack as Geoff, a fellow gangster and diner.
  • Bob Goody as Starkie, a member of Spica's gang.


Jean-Paul Gaultier designed the costumes, and Michael Nyman wrote the score, which prominently incorporated his 1985 composition, Memorial. Giorgio Locatelli created the prop food.

Running time and rating in the US

The film's original running time was 124 minutes. Due to the content, the MPAA gave Miramax a choice of either an X rating or go unrated (adults only) for theatrical release. Unrated was chosen in light of the X rating being more associated with pornographic films. Two versions of the film were released on VHS in the 1990s. One was an R-rated cut running 95 minutes (mainly for large video store chains); the other was the original version.


The film received generally positive reviews; it currently holds a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus stating: "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."[3]


The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is the twelfth album release by Michael Nyman and the ninth to feature the Michael Nyman Band. The album includes the first commercially released recording of "Memorial".

There is some music in the film not included on the soundtrack album: the love theme for Michael and Georgina, which is "Fish Beach" from Drowning by Numbers, the song performed as a show in the restaurant, or a doubly pulsed variation of "Memorial" that occurs about halfway through the film. Edits of "Memorial" appear throughout the film, with the entire twelve minute movement accompanying the final scene and end credits, but one variation is uniquely created for the film.


External links