The Cook, The Thief, The Wife And Her Lover
By the time The Cook, The Thief came out, Peter Greenaway already had a reputation as a visually arresting but divisive film-maker. Trapped in this vortex where Art-house and Exploitation almost meet, he has almost as many detractors as those who would happily invest thunderously huge books intricately picking apart every sinew of his artistic genius. Having started life as a painter, he would then move into film, eventually finding his way behind camera (via editing) and becoming an auteur. Whilst divisive he’s no doubt earned enough respect in corners to be considered one of Britain’s most important film-makers of the last 30 years.
The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her Lover is probably Greenaway’s most well known and accessible film. It’s a film that for me (and I suppose to many film students) I first became aware of through film studies. Of particular interest at that time, and the point of its curricular inclusion was the visual aesthetics. Both the mise-en-scene and photography in particular. Visually the film is bewitching. It’s just utterly gorgeous to behold. One must pay particular attention through the shifts between sets and their respective colours schemes to encode the meaning behind each choice (or indeed form their own opinion) but needless to say Greenaway with his artistic background pays great attention to every detail on-screen. Every stray crumb (food playing an important part of the film too) probably has a purpose.
So the film looks gorgeous. It also sounds great, with an evocative and wonderfully written score by Michael Nyman. The film owes a lot to the visual and the music as it combines to tell large chunks of the story. The dialogue is only secondary, often filler as these strangely operatic film allows the relationship between Richard (Richard Bohringer) and Georgina (Helen Mirren) to play out with virtually no dialogue. The majority of the film’s dialogue is actually chewed and spat out by Michael Gambon (The Thief) as the obnoxious Albert who is blissfully unaware his wife is having an affair with a regular patron at his indulgent restaurant. Mirren is fantastic in this and she looks stunning. The rest of the cast are good too but Gambon is a monstrous, marauding, unrestrained tour-de-force. It’s an amazing performance as he crafts one of the most ghastly characters ever committed to film.
Of all the films in my list this will probably be one the one least likely to have been seen. Whilst it is a British film, its sensibilities owe more to French and Italian cinema probably, but regardless it is a work of artistic beauty that needs to be seen, even if it repels you.
I suppose I can’t exclude Danny Boyle from this list. Our most important director currently working. Trainspotting is his iconic piece. It’s his pop culture piece. Maybe it’s all too obvious a choice and I should put Shallow Grave in, but that has Keith Allen’s cock on display, so I’ll stick with Trainspotting. I can take Ewan McGregor’s cock…erm…
Anyway, Trainspotting remains a blistering, relentless and energetic piece of brilliance. A mix of foul, horrific, terrible, funny, charming and sad moments, all encapsulated by a collection of misfits. The film launched the careers of almost everyone involved. Boyle was catapulted to the big boys directors table having cemented himself firmly here following the promising opening gambit, Shallow Grave. Elsewhere Ewan McGregor would of course become a Hollywood leading man, and Carlyle would also establish himself in Hollywood after following with the aforementioned Full Monty the next year. It also saw Ewan Bremner, Kelly MacDonald and Jonny Lee Miller forge fine careers too (and Peter Mullan).
I can’t think of a film that unabashedly switches back and forth between the grotesquely hilarious to the utter gut wrenchingly horrific so wildly. Boyle turns the levels of daring up to 11 and it pays off.