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Peter Greenaway

Updated on August 17, 2014

Peter Greenaway got his art training in the medium of painting, but he is best known to the world as the director of films such as THE PILLOW BOOK, DROWNING BY NUMBERS and THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE & HER LOVER.

In addition to his filmmaking, Greenaway also works on various fine art projects and does live DJ-like performances that mix music and visuals. Keep an eye out for him at European festivals....

THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER - 1989 - written and directed by Peter Greenaway

As with all of Greenaway's films, fine art painting lends much to the look of the film. In the main room of the restaurant, "The Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia of Haarlem" (1614) by Frans Hals is a mural on the back wall. Much of the look and costuming of the film draws from this image as well. Jean Paul Gaultier made his debut as a film costume designer with this movie.

The different settings were based on primarily singular colors. Outside the restaurant everything is very blue, the kitchen is green, the bathrooms are blinding white and the main dining room of the restaurant is red. The costumes remain the same from room to room, but switch colors as the actors move from one set to another, an effect that is most dramatic when the Wife (Helen Mirren) goes from room to room, her dress changing from red to green to black and to blue, but always staying the same style.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover

The cook works at a restaurant, owned by the thief. The thief's wife is trapped and bored in her marriage and takes one of the restaurants' regular patrons as a lover.



Brian Dennehy portrays Stourley Kracklite, an American architect who arrives in Rome with his wife Louisa (Chloe Webb) to put on an exhibition honoring the architect Boullee. His marriage is a bit strained as is his career.

He keeps a diary, addressing each entry to Boullee himself. He also takes postcards from all the historic places he visits without paying for them. Kracklite is obsessed with his stomach, which increasinly pains him. His wife is obsessed with having a child, which is Kracklite's, although she is carrying on an affair with the Italian liasion Capasian Speckler (Lambert Wilson), who in turn is embezzling money from the exhibition.

Louisa's pregnancy advances, Kracklite is diagnosed with stomach cancer and the exhibition advances, with all things seeming to be connected and hanging by a thread at the same time. Dennehy is fantastic as a man facing and racing against his ambitions and mortality.

The Belly of an Architect
The Belly of an Architect

One thing which struck me when I first saw this movie was the soundtrack. I like how bits of the music are upbeat yet haunting. I'm really happy to have this soundtrack in my collection.


About Peter Greenaway

Greenaway produces paintings that are filmic and makes movies that are rich fine art scenes.

Peter Greenaway Rarities and Older Films

You may have to be VHS capable to catch up with some Greenaway films that aren't currently available on DVD. Also, be sure to check for the appropriate region when bidding on DVDs.

THE PILLOW BOOK - starring Vivian Wu and Ewan MacGregor

In THE PILLOW BOOK, we first meet Nagiko when she is five, and her father is painting her name on her face which he does each year on her birthday. Her father is an author, and is humiliated annually by his publisher.

As an adult, Nagiko (Vivian Wu) not only craves a lover who will paint on her body, but she vows revenge against the publisher. She becomes lovers with Jerome (Ewan MacGregor), a young man who will not only paint on her, but is also himself a lover of the publisher. She sends the publisher a series of books, each painted on the body of a man. The love triangle ends in both sorrow and triumph for the young woman.

Drowning By Numbers - Starring Joan Plowright, Bernard Hill, Juliet Stevenson and Joely Richardson

A whimsical murder movie. This film follows the actions and counting of three related women, all named Cissie, who all drown their husbands. They conspire with the local coroner Magit (Bernard Hill) to have the deaths reported as accidents, and then must play a game of wits with him to reveal or keep hidden their secrets.

Magit tries to barter sexual favors from each woman in exchange for his signing the death certificates "accidental drowning" but they all just lead him on frustratedly. Metaphors of playing games are woven in the story, as are many actual games played by the characters over the course of the story. You can read details on all the games on Peter Greenaway's website.

There is a lot about counting in this film. The little girl jumping rope counts 100 stars. There are actual numbers visually found throughout the films settings that lead from zero at the beginning of the movie up to 100 in the very last scene.

Trailers, Interviews and Clips

Are you a fan of Peter Greenaway? - feedback, comments and filmic thoughts

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      filmic 6 years ago

      Thank you for this lens. I love the work of Greenaway, whether you're a fan of the story or subjects of his films you can always just sit back and soak up the art! My favourite is The Belly of an Architect, though it's not technically his best work, some of the scenes - the filming of and around the architecture is just such a visual feast.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 7 years ago

      CTWL is prolly the best intro to Greenaway for the uninitiated (though its not available on Netflix!). Will also recommend Draughtsman's Contract, and also Zoo, Zed and Two Naughts. Seem to remember Greenaway doing fascinating DVD commentaries on those as well. At the other end: Prospero's Books. Yikes. Just could not decipher that one...

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      hinterlander 9 years ago

      I love Peter Greenaway, TCTTHWAHL is such a shocking film even now, Michael Gambon gives such a terrifying and overbearing performance. I love the Draughtsman's Contract too, this is a bit more entertaining. I loved the strange "Green Man" bloke who is hidden in the garden in various scenes. Nice resource for PG's stuff on the web. Thanks.