Retro Review: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

the-cook-thief-his-wife-and-her-lover-movie-poster-1990-1020263154This month’s Retro Review takes us to a fancy French restaurant, but will leave you much less hungry by the end of it; the 1989 British thriller with the extremely long-winded name feels anything but as you sit down and enjoy the two hour plot unravel before you… Well, unless you watch the censored version, in which case, you’d miss out on a few of the more risqué scenes. However, with the central plot based around a steamy love affair, there are bound to be some sensual moments and this film certainly has its fair share of them!

As the title suggests, the affair is between the wife of a thief and her lover, but who are these characters and how does a cook fit into the equation? Well, Richard Boarst (Richard Bohringer), or “the cook”, resents “the thief”, Albert Spica (Michael Gambon), and assists in the continuation of the affair between “the wife”, Georgina Spica (Helen Mirren), and “her lover” Michael (Alan Howard). So, that complicated title is actually rather elaborate, and while it gives a hint to the main plot device, it does not spoil any of the narrative.

The majority of the film takes place in the French restaurant that Richard works in and the constant panning shots across the kitchen and the dining areas create a bustling atmosphere as recognizable extras, including Alex Kingston and Roger Lloyd-Pack, go about their business in the background. The mise-en-scene colours show a location change with blacks and blues used mostly in the kitchen décor, red being the prominent colour for the dining hall, bright white indicating a movement to the bathroom, and browns and ambers used for the book depository; we will explore this as the review progresses.

The film starts in a dark street by the restaurant and the audience is immediately introduced to the assertive persona of Albert and his gang, all dressed in black to match the darkness of their deeds and the night. After verbally abusing his wife, it is obvious from the start as to why she wouldn’t be happy with him! His reign of vicious anger doesn’t stop as he enters the restaurant, however, and we soon learn why Richard isn’t exactly his friend. The dark colours used in the kitchen have a slightly different connotation as the kitchen is clearly not as well taken care of, aesthetically speaking, in comparison to the dining hall because the kitchen staff are less significant to Albert than his associates, and his rivalry with Richard also plays a part in this.

002-the-cook-the-thief-his-wife-and-her-lover-theredlistAs we traverse into the dining hall itself, we learn that a lot of the other connoisseurs are, in fact, other gang members, all just as vulgar and rude as Albert. Georgina is quite uncomfortable with them and she barely speaks a word to Albert’s associates, or to him for that matter. While the two are sitting in close proximity of one another their attention is continually diverted elsewhere, evidently showing how unsteady their relationship is without either of them saying a word. The ironic timing of a conversation about food relating to sexual desire is pieced together with several shots of Georgina and an intriguing stranger eating, subtly hinting the sexual deeds that will be committed between the two. The audience sees Georgina’s interest in him pique as the discussion next to her heats up. Another noteworthy indicator would be the dominant red of the mise-en-scene as connotations of red include passion and danger. In Georgina’s case, one will directly lead to the other.

She excuses herself from the unpleasant conversation and makes haste to the bathroom where she is swiftly joined by her potential lover. At this point, the majority of viewers probably wanted the affair so Georgina could feel loved and appreciated by a man. However, the two tease the audience, skirting around the idea of an affair and that innocence lasts all of five minutes before the two allow their attraction to get more physical. The purity and innocence symbolised by the white of the bathroom is completely lost as the two begin to have sexual relations in one of the stalls the next night.

The affair escalates over a very short period of time and the two try to keep it a secret from Albert, with the help of Richard and his fellow cooks. But, the two know that when Albert finds out, his temper will not make it a pleasant confrontation and, based on the beginning of the film, the audience knows this. Georgina and Michael go into hiding in an abandoned book depository, a relaxing place for the literate, which does not include Albert.

Albert does soon hear that Georgina is having an affair and he is oddly defensive over his wife that we learn he abuses, not just verbally but physically too. Albert starts lashing out at his acquaintances, even stabbing one of them in the cheek with a fork! He yells many profanities in his blind fit of rage and declares: “When I find out who it is I’ll cook him! I’ll cook him and I’ll eat him!” Be careful what you say, Albert!

The ending of the film is rather bittersweet as we see Georgina finally showing her husband just how much he doesn’t mean to her, but she was only motivated to do this through tragedy. Richard, the cook, obviously helps her exact her revenge on Albert’s years of abuse to the both of them. Without spoiling the rather twisted ending, there is one thing to learn from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and that is revenge is a dish best served piping hot and at gunpoint.

What did you think of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover?

Comment with your thoughts.

Letitia Lemon


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