Opening 11 Aug 2011
The films that make the most lasting impressions on me are always those that fill the senses, and those that involve food are always high up on that list. Who couldn’t feel their eyes burning as Meryl Streep furiously chopped onions in Julie and Julia? Whose mouth was not watering lustfully in Juliette Binoche’s candy shop in Chocolat? (Although it’s hard to say whether I was drooling more over the truffles or Johnny Depp). Toast is one of those films.
Based on the autobiography of Nigel Slater, who is a well-known English food critic and journalist, the film focuses on his younger years and the source of his passion for food. During a difficult childhood, his mother is weak and ill and can’t manage to cook a meal beyond boiled beans and “toast.” His relationship with his father is awkward and thorny. After his mother’s death, young Nigel tries to gain his father’s love and approval by doing the cooking. Much to his dismay his father hires a cleaning woman, played by the brilliant Helena Bonham-Carter, who worms her way into the family by making herself indispensable and creating feasts that a small boy could never manage. Over time Nigel‘s culinary skills improve, and his hatred for his new step-mother grows, as their relationship and cooking becomes ever more competitive.
Although originally shown on BBC One in 2010, it was featured in the 2011 Berlinale’s Culinary Cinema program, which was launched several years ago to call attention to the relationship between film, culture, cuisine and the environment. It was directed by SJ Clarkson, who has mostly worked on TV series including Ugly Betty.
Obviously Helene Bonham-Carter is the film’s main draw in the after-glow of The King’s Speech, but Freddie Highmore is also fascinating to watch playing the struggling, insecure young Nigel. Ken Stott plays Nigel’s father to perfection. But while the acting is wonderful, the characters are disturbingly dislikeable. To me, that makes the film all the more interesting.
It makes you want to go home, put on a Dusty Springfield CD and make a lemon meringue pie. It makes you want to bake a ham with all the trimmings. There are enough charming and humorous moments to keep you giggling all the way through. But it also leaves you feeling emotionally uncomfortable, with the kind of nagging feeling you get when you see a situation that is absolutely unjust and yet unalterable. It fills the senses and lingers with you, as a good film should. (Shawn Klug)