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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is a 1989 French/British romantic  crime drama  written and directed by Peter Greenaway, starring Richard BohringerMichael GambonHelen Mirren, Tim Roth  and Alan Howard in the titular roles. The film’s graphicscatologicalviolent and nude scenes, as well as its lavish cinematography and formalism were noted at the time of its release.

Plot summary

English gangster Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) has taken over the high-class Le Hollandais Restaurant, run by French chef Richard Borst (Richard Bohringer). Spica makes nightly appearances at the restaurant with his retinue of thugs. His oafish behavior causes frequent confrontations with the staff and his own customers, whose patronage he loses, but whose money he seems not to miss.

Forced to accompany Spica is his reluctant, well-bred wife, Georgina (Helen Mirren), who soon catches the eye of a quiet regular at the restaurant, bookshop owner Michael (Alan Howard). Under her husband’s nose, Georgina carries on an affair with Michael with the help of the restaurant staff. Ultimately Spica learns of the affair, forcing Georgina to hide out at Michael’s bookshop. Borst sends food to Georgina through his young employee, a boy soprano who sings while working. Spica tortures the boy before finding the bookstore’s location written in a book the boy is carrying. Spica’s men storm Michael’s bookshop while she is away and torture him to death by force-feeding him pages from his books. Georgina discovers his body when she returns.

Overcome with rage and grief, she begs Borst to cook Michael’s body, and he eventually complies. Together with all the people that Spica wronged throughout the film, Georgina confronts her husband at the restaurant and forces him to eat a mouthful of Michael’s cooked body. Spica complies, gagging, before Georgina shoots him in the head.


  • Richard Bohringer as Richard Borst, “The Cook”: The owner and head chef of “Le Hollandais”. He gallically resents Albert Spica, who has taken control of the restaurant.
  • Michael Gambon as Albert Spica, “The Thief”: A violent gangster with pretensions of being agourmet, but his coarse and violent behavior wreaks destruction on everyone around him.
  • Helen Mirren as Georgina Spica, “The Wife”: The sophisticated and battered wife of Albert Spica, from whom she has unsuccessfully tried to escape.
  • Alan Howard as Michael, “The Lover”: An erudite bookshop owner who dines at “Le Hollandais” every night while reading a book. He carries on a doomed affair with Georgina.
  • Tim Roth as Mitchel, a dim-witted goon in Spica’s gang.
  • Ciarán Hinds as Cory, a pimp who is ejected from Spica’s gang after he protests Spica’s brutal treatment of his girls.
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Turpin, the bespectacled book-keeper in Spica’s gang.


Jean-Paul Gaultier designed the costumes, and Michael Nyman wrote the score, which prominently incorporated his 1985 composition, MemorialGiorgio Locatelli created the prop food.

Running time and rating controversy

The film’s original running time was 124 minutes. Due to the content, the MPAA gave Miramax a choice of either an X rating or go unrated (adults only) for theatrical release. Unrated was chosen in light of the X rating being more associated with pornographic films. Two versions of the film were released on VHS in the 1990s. One was an R-rated cut running 98 minutes (mainly for large video store chains); the other was the original version.



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