The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (Shock) (1989)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 23-May-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Biographies-Crew-Peter Greenaway
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 124:06 (Case: 118)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Peter Greenaway

Shock Entertainment
Starring Richard Bohringer
Michael Gambon
Helen Mirren
Alan Howard
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $34.95 Music Michael Nyman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover is a strange movie. I think surreal is perhaps the best description. It is an "art" movie. I cannot claim that I understood it fully. I'm not even sure that I want to. I did not enjoy it, but it has some redeeming features; I even admire some bits. 

    For some people, the fact that this is a Peter Greenaway movie is enough: they will know immediately that they will appreciate it, or that they will hate it. I won't be going out of my way to see any more of his, but I am glad that I saw one.

    This is a story of four characters; all the others are basically props. They are, as you'd expect, the characters named in the title.

    The cook (Richard) is really a chef. He runs a restaurant called Le Hollandais (French for The Dutchman). I note that it is not La Hollandaise, which would indicate a devotion to a particular sauce. He appears to be devoted to nothing but food, but this is not the case. He spends time looking after the victims of Albert's temper. I find him the most sympathetic character in the entire movie.

    The thief (Albert) is really a mobster, apparently into racketeering. He has pretensions to better things, but his manners are poor, and he is generally uncouth. In many ways he is a caricature, but the entire movie revolves around him. He is dangerous, because he can react unpredictably to the tiniest slight.

    The wife (Georgina) is married to the mobster, but there is never an explanation as to why. He could never have attracted a woman of obvious taste, and she could not have been forced into marrying him. I consider this conundrum a large hole in the plot. She has no affection for him, and takes some joy in cuckolding him in the very restaurant he adores.

    The lover (Michael) is a specialist in books, currently specialising in the French Revolution. He brings books with him into the restaurant, and reads while eating alone. It is quite clear that all of the restaurant staff know about the affair (especially the cook), and equally clear that none of the diners do.

    One supporting actor who stands out is the dishwasher. He is a mere boy, who sings (in a piercing, crystal-clear, boy soprano) as he washes the dishes. 

    There are some ostentatious elements to this movie. There are four main sets (there are a few others, but they get very little time). Each of these sets is distinguished by a colour: red for the dining room, white for the rest rooms, green for the kitchen, and blue for outside the back of the restaurant. What is unusual is that most people's clothing changes colour as they go from one set to another. They will be wearing red in the dining room, and then suddenly white in the rest room. Moreover, the clothing itself may be subtly different - not quite the same style (very close, but not quite the same). The two big exceptions are the cook, who is always in white, and the lover, who wears a brown suit. I am unsure of the implications of all this, but I'm sure they are complex.

    There are some distasteful elements to this movie. I would strongly recommend not watching it immediately before or after eating (let alone during!). There are a couple of shots of decaying food, complete with maggots. There is some ugly violence, too.

    There is extensive nudity of the wife and her lover, neither of whom are particularly young and beautiful. If that may disturb you, then don't watch this film.

    I would really have appreciated something like a feature-length audio commentary for this movie, with someone explaining what was going on at each point. Maybe the director could have done this, or maybe a lecturer on film. Without this, I don't think I can really understand or truly appreciate this movie. DVD is a perfect medium for this sort of educational exercise - I consider this an opportunity lost.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. That appears to be the theatrical aspect ratio.

    The image is a touch soft, but quite clear. Shadow detail is rather good, even though there is a great deal of black in the picture at all times. There's no low-level noise to be seen.

    Colour is important to this movie. As mentioned, each of the main sets is distinguished by a colour motif. The colours are vivid, deep and saturated, but not over-saturated.

    There are few film artefacts to be seen, but there's a rush of white spots on the film at 123:28, during the credits. There is no visible aliasing; any potential aliasing appears to be hidden by the slight softness of the image. There is a bit of shimmer on the menu.

    There are no subtitles, which is a shame - I could have used them to check up on some of the dialogue.

    The disc is single-sided and dual-layered (RSDL-formatted). The layer change is placed in a moment of complete blackness at 51:02, making it invisible on some players.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is exactly one soundtrack. It is English. It is Dolby Digital 2.0. There is no surround encoding. I could not honestly tell if it is stereo or mono - if it is stereo, there's very little width to the soundstage.

    Dialogue is a bit blurred at times, by accents and by mouthfuls of food, but most of the dialogue can be made out fairly well. There are no visible audio sync problems.

    The score is interesting. It is ponderous and fairly bass-heavy in the dining room, and that's quite suitable. In the kitchen we get to hear the singing of the dishwasher. And they are not afraid to leave stretches of silence, or dialogue without music behind it. Michael Nyman wrote the score.

    The surrounds and subwoofer don't get used by this soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The main menu is backed by the theme. This is one of the longest animations I've seen for a menu (3:34), but I recommend you watch it - it includes an introduction for each of the four characters.

Theatrical Trailer (3:31)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

Peter Greenaway

    This is a 16 page description of Peter Greenaway and his work.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc has a different cover, and is squeezed into a single layer. I would expect that we'd get a better quality of transfer, given that this disc has two layers to spread out in.


    The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a complex film, given rather a good transfer onto DVD.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is good.

    The extras are not extensive. An audio commentary would have been very helpful.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDArcam DV88, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Shaun B

Comments (Add) NONE