Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

Go To

"Try the cock, Albert. It's a delicacy. And you know where it's been."

Squick-laden, Nausea Fuel-laden off-beat 1989 British drama/romance/comedy/arthouse film full of Food Porn, Scenery Porn and gorgeous symbolism, directed by Peter Greenaway and starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard in the titular roles.

English mafia don Albert Spica is the owner of the high-class Le Hollandais restaurant, of which Richard Boarst is the head chef. Georgina is Albert's wife. Every night, Albert flies into rages and forces other patrons out of the restaurant, in addition to subjecting his enemies to sadistic tortures (such as rolling around in dog manure). This is to Georgina's chagrin. Georgina's eye eventually catches Michael, a shy bookshop owner who regularly dines at the restaurant. With the help of the restaurant staff, the two carry out a torrid affair, sneaking off to the kitchen or women's bathroom to have sex whenever they can. Unfortunately, Albert finds out, and his vengeance against Michael is slow and painful, but so is Georgina's against Albert when she finds out.

Notable for its sets; consisting solely of blue-lit back-alley, green kitchen, red dining room, white women's bathroom and Richard's bookshop, in which the outfits of the characters change color to conform to; and for its X (and later, NC-17) rating in the US. Theories regarding the film's meaning are diverse; but the popular consensus seems to be that it is a metaphor for the oppression of the poor by the rich and by governments; with Richard representing the poor masses and Albert the oppressive upper class. More particularly, it is popularly regarded as criticism of the tax laws of Margaret Thatcher.

This film provides examples of:

  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Albert does this a few times, directing his violence and anger at anyone within reach. One of the more vile examples is when he stabs a woman in the face when she tells him Georgina has been cheating on him.
  • Art Imitates Art: The mural on the back wall of the dining room is "The Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia of Haarlem" (1616) by Frans Hals. It became the basis for Peter Greenaway's set decoration and costuming in the dining area.
  • As You Know: In the opening scene, Albert feels the need to tell the Le Hollandais staff member whom he is busy smearing with dog faeces that he is Albert Spica, and his wife is Georgina, which said hapless employee surely already knows but the audience does not.
  • Berserk Button: Aside from the usual reasons any egotistical, bad-tempered, selfish mob boss loses his cool, Albert has three specific ones related to dinner — his men being "vulgar" at the table (with a big dose of Hypocritical Humor, as Albert himself frequently makes crude jokes and brings up disgusting topics of conversation), reading while eating ("this is a restaurant, not a lib'ary!"), and smoking (as cigarette smoke damages the taste buds).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Albert loses everything and the rest of the cast get together to humiliate and kill him. Meanwhile, Michael is dead and at least two of the characters are scarred for life.
  • Black Comedy: It is obviously a dark film but Albert is so deliciously hammy and certain lines are so clever that it can be surprisingly funny at times.
  • Break the Cutie: The Innocent Soprano (named Pup in the credits) not only gets a front row to many of Albert's violent tantrums, he turns his attention on to him at one point, forcing him to watch as he rapes his wife. Later, he turns his attention directly at the poor kid.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Nothing short of the fear of death will stop Georgina and Michael from having sex. Even if it means the kitchen staff are working around them while they are making love in the back.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture:
    • Innocent Soprano Pup is force fed the buttons on his uniform (which he promptly vomits back up again) by a homicidally jealous Albert in an attempt to get him to reveal where Georgina and Michael are hiding to carry on their affair.
    • When Albert catches up with Michael (Georgina having gone to visit Pup in the hospital), he tears pages out of a French history book and stuffs them into Michael's throat with the handle of a wooden spoon until he chokes to death.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The main colours of the parking lot (blue), the kitchen (green), the dining room (red), and the bathroom (white).
  • Color Motif: Peter Greenaway uses specific colors to represent each set of the film. The exterior of Le Hollandais is predominantly blue. The kitchen is mostly green. The seating area of the restaurant is red and the restrooms are stark white. The color of Georgina's dress and the sashes that Albert and his associates wear change to match this scheme as the characters move from room to room. The color of Georgina's cigarettes also changes to match the color of the set as she moves.
  • Crapsack World: Albert can publicly brutalize people, including his own wife and customers at his restaurant, and there are no police officers to call, apparently. The closest thing to authority we see are health inspectors who order the removal of the two vans of fish and meat Albert unsuccessfully tried to "donate" to Richard's kitchen after they sit for several days, causing their contents to rot.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Albert can't even stand the idea of a doctor seeing Georgina naked, let alone her having an affair.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: It doesn't even get that wordy as far as Michael and Georgina are concerned. They don't have a full conversation until about the mid-point. Their first few sessions are entirely silent and they don't learn each others' names until later in the film.
  • Embodiment of Vice: Albert is Wrath and Gluttony personified. He's a Fat Bastard that stuffs his face with fancy food, thinking that simply eating it makes him a Man of Wealth and Taste. He's also an abusive husband, a Bad Boss and a complete asshole to everyone around him, his inflated sense of superiority making him entitled to bully everyone around him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: By the end of the film, all of Albert's goons (with the exception of Mitchel, who is equally as bad as Albert) have deserted him, either through being outright terrified of him or by being completely sickened at how sadistic he is. His torture of the boy soprano Pup and brutal murder of Michael is the last straw for the very few who stay with him until the end.
  • Explicit Content: The sex scenes had to be trimmed down for the R-rated cut.
  • Fan Disservice: Naked Helen Mirren and Alan Howard might interest some members of the audience, but maybe not when they are covered in rotting meat.
  • Food Porn: The kitchen staff essentially work within food tableaux. A title card appears for every day of the storyline, each of which is lavishly decorated with food spreads.
  • Force Feeding: Albert's favored method of torture, eventually turned back on him.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Albert learns of Georgina and Michael's affair, he trashes Richard's kitchen, shrieking "I'll kill him and eat him!" He does, although he doesn't do the latter voluntarily.
    • When Georgina and Michael are smuggled out of the restaurant to Michael's book depository, Georgina asks what good all of the books do him; "You can't eat them." Albert kills Michael by force-feeding him pages from books.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: If you just avoided getting killed by Albert, you'd wanna celebrate as well.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Albert physically lashes out at anyone who remotely annoys him.
  • High-Class Cannibal: Played with. Spica is a wealthy gangster, but he is firmly Wicked Pretentious. And while he does eat human flesh while being held at gunpoint by Georgina, he vomits and quivers with utter revulsion.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Albert will be a humanitarian whether he wants to be or not! The ending involves him being forced to eat Michael's cooked remains.
  • Innocent Soprano: One of the dishwashers in the kitchen at Le Hollandais is a boy soprano who sings a setting of the 52nd Psalm while working. His singing and his job doing what Albert perceives as "woman's work" make him an inevitable target for the latter's bullying, culminating in his being brutally tortured for information about the affair between Georgina and Michael (both of whom treat the boy far more kindly).
  • Instant Seduction: Ooohhhhh yeah. Michael and Georgina fancy each other at first sight and almost immediately go to the washroom to have sex without saying a word.
  • Ironic Echo: When Albert finds out about Georgina and Michael's affair, he angrily declares that he will eat him for it. The movie ends with him being forced to eat a part of Michael's corpse at gunpoint by Georgina before she shoots him.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Averted. The lovers don't seem to mind that at any moment, Albert could waltz in and find them. Even when he does find out and they are forced to flee, they keep it up.
  • Kick the Dog: Albert does this for two hours straight as he constantly abuses helpless people around him, including his wife and at least one child. At one point, he even runs over a dog with his car.
  • Large Ham: Albert manages to chew quite a lot of scenery along with the rest of that fine cuisine.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Albert ends up eating more than his words. After all the abuse he put everyone through, he ends up being forces to eat Michael, which was a figurative threat he made earlier.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Georgina explains that she is unable to have children with the possible implication that she wants them.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Happens in the ladies' restroom, a bookstore, an empty lot, and in the middle of the restaurant's kitchen while surrounded by staff.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Mostly Michael, although Albert's victim at the beginning gets stripped as well.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Georgina, outside of the scene filed under Fan Disservice.
  • Multi-Character Title: Though none by name.
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: Or in a meat van anyway.
  • Negative Continuity: Greenaway has a tradition of ignoring continuity in his films since he values visuals over details. This is evident in this film where characters completely change wardrobes and hairstyles as they pass from one room to the next in order to match their surroundings (every room in the restaurant is in one color or another). This becomes impressive since one shot involves a oner, following the characters through the entire building and still managing to change their clothes if only for a few seconds. It gives the impression of one take despite obviously being a shot that had to take a day or two at least.
  • Nouveau Riche: Spica is a thug who, now that he's got money, thinks that he's a classy, cultured gentleman. He goes to his high-class restaurant every night and lectures his cronies on cuisine. In reality, he's just a violent oaf.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Albert's views are very... colorful in regards to women and minorities.
  • The Promise: Albert is forced to keep his promise, which involved killing and eating Michael. He did intend for it to be a partial promise, though.
  • Sex Equals Love: Possibly. The lovers don't say much to one another but they do have a lot of sex and love each other quite a bit.
  • Sexual Karma: The main characters have a very healthy sex life and are willing to do it anywhere. This is in contrast to the description we're given concerning sex with Albert which is terrifying and sadistic.
  • Shower of Love: Doubles as a Shower of Angst as Michael and Georgina get hosed off after escaping Albert. They are now naked and on the run, but they still have each other.
  • The Silent Bob: For roughly half the movie, Michael doesn't say a word and lets his facial expressions do the talking, whether it's shyly approaching Georgina or showing disdain for Albert. Even after he speaks, he could be considered The Quiet One as he still says very little.
  • Stocking Filler: Georgina fills them out quite nicely in everything she wears.
  • To Serve Man: Georgina forces Albert to eat some of Michael's corpse, which had been professionally roasted and prepared by Richard, at gunpoint.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To the 17th-century English play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.
  • Wicked Pretentious: Albert is a mafia boss that has taken control of the Le Hollandais restaurant were he dines every day with his wife and crew. He fancies himself an intellectual and elite, ordering French food (while mispronouncing the words), musing about philosophy and shaming his group for using improper utensils. In reality, he is a gross, abusive, heartless man. He tortures and kills people he believes have crossed him (regardless of whether they actually did it or if it warranted the punishment), publicly brutalizes his wife and various patrons at the restaurant, harasses Michael for reading while at the dinner table, and this is just what we see on screen. He is so bad, that both the kitchen staff and his own men turn on him by the end of the film.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Albert abuses Georgina mostly, but at one point, he stabs a woman in the face with a fork.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Albert once again. He tortures the Innocent Soprano for information later on.