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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) Review

Littering a cast with phenomenal actors in the heyday of their respective careers and mixing in a lovely dollop of personal interest in the culinary field, and you have a film that feels like it caters to a specific portion of my life. I’m no good at cooking, but the closest I can get to even wishing to improve that craft is by watching the various films and television shows available that look to feature restauranteurs and the fine art of perfect cookery in various shades of detail. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a film that does just that. Bringing in cookery elements to various degrees, whilst piling it on top of dramatic musings from a cast of remarkably eccentric, vivid, and courageously angry performances and you have quite the engaging film. 

Seeing Tim Roth and Michael Gambon share the screen with one another is a pairing I didn’t realise I was so eager to see. They’re both at the top of their game throughout this piece from director Peter Greenaway. Elegant direction that saunters its way through a story we’re thrown right into the middle of. A dive into the deep end, a sudden beginning establishes our characters with great effect. An almost unrecognisable Gambon provides a truly menacing performance, dominating Mirren, Roth and the rest of the charming cast. Roth in particular has a really enjoyable supporting role, his pre-Reservoir Dogs boom giving us a chance to see him in smaller, contained roles, the untapped potential on display is exceptional.  

There’s an otherworldly aura to the set design and props used throughout the film. Opening on a tremendous long tracking shot that shows the oddly oversized length of a sort-of kitchen, it’s clear from the beginning that Greenaway has some mesmerising shot composition on offer throughout. Held together tremendously well by some dominating lead performances, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover features nothing short of incredible storytelling devices through the power of dominating performances. The dark nature of the film coupled with some gorgeously effective use of colour is absolutely tremendous.  

Surprisingly graphic in the nature of its violence and sex at times, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover never fails to strive for in your face depictions and gruesome detail. A film that wastes no time at all getting to the real heart of its script in a tremendously rewarding start. Furious outrage, passionate performances and the incredible chemistry of its dauntingly talented cast gives way for near-perfect filmmaking.  

The imagery and lighting throughout, the dingy interior and the corrupted characters that storm the forefront of the scene remind me of DelicatessenThe Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a film of passion. Passion in and out of the kitchen, behind and in front of the camera. It oozes out of the cinematography, a stylish flicker of perfection that muses on sexuality, cookery and foul play. An orchestral soundtrack that exudes perfection brings about a dark drama filled with performances that are larger than life. Essential viewing if you’re even the slightest fan of anyone involved with the film.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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