Criterion Prediction #130: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Director: Peter Greenaway
Cast: Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Richard Bohringer, Tim Roth, Alan Howard
Synopsis: A freewheeling look at the madcap antics that occur at a restaurant whose proprietor is a sadistic crime boss whose wife is having an affair with a modest bookseller.
Critique: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, is armed with an allegorical rebel yell denouncing the fascist political climate of the Thatcher era. Greenaway thumps and clobbers us with heavy-handed imagery and loaded metaphors. This is a film that nearly luxuriates in its salaciousness but Greenaway taps into a rare vein that is precisely underseen in movies of this ilk, and that vein is beautified anger.
I think Peter Greenaway is either an artist drunk on passion or a passionately drunk artist who is in love with beautiful images.
A verbose stylist who indulges on a Fellini-esque level of visual splendor, however, Greenaway sidesteps the impish inclinations of the late Italian maestro for a bit of savagery, however scatological, fevered, and ostentatious The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover might be he can still seduce our senses in realizing an all-inclusive aesthetic bath that is both dizzying and rapturous with a painterly visual style.
While he wears his inflated artistic sensibilities on his sleeve, we can revel in them because The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover intuitively calibrates us to the violent exploits of the bourgeois. Though broadly expressed, this works on us because Greenaway doesn’t disparage the viewers by being disingenuous with his mission statement. The baroque visual flourishes are defiantly conceived, and the result is the product of a creative mind operating with tact and diversity.
The film is a showcase for the creative prowess of the director the presence of a stellar cast advances it. It’s fun to see a young Tim Roth (who was ripping apart British cinema with early gems such as Clarke’s Made in Britain and Frears’ The Hit) and Ciaran Hinds it’s the titular Thief, sadistically brought to life by Michael Gambon who steals the show. He embodies the gluttonous sadism consistent with both vulgar classism and sociopathic criminal mentality, the blurring line of which typifies the film’s thesis. Helen Mirren’s quiet moll is alluring simply because she’s an adept performer, and like The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is more of a model for the film than existing as a fleshed out character.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: If you were to ask me which Peter Greenaway film should be the first to get the Criterion treatment, I’d say Prospero’s Books. But there’s more of a reputation following The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, which would make the film the best candidate from the directors cannon to receive a spine a number.
Along with The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, A Zed & Two Noughts, Prospero’s Books, The Pillow Book, The Draughtsman’s Contract, and The Falls are streaming on Filmstruck and, considering Greenaway’s artistic stature, his transition from second tier quality DVDs to a place among the luminaries in The Criterion Collection seems warranted. Sure, Greenaway’s work could fall into Kino Lorber’s distribution model or the erratically selective Twilight Time wheelhouse but, with Criterion’s commitment to arthouse cinema, it seems like Greenaway’s induction is long overdue.