TOAST - Dry and With A Big Hole
Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Freddie Highmore, Ken Stott, Oscar Kennedy, Victoria Hamilton, Matthew McNulty, Frasier Huckle, Reilly Newbold and Ben Aldridge
Director: S.J. Clarkson
Screenplay: Lee Hall
Time: 85 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
|Victoria Hamilton and Oscar Kennedy in TOAST|
PREAMBLE: This BBC biographical drama on the childhood of English food writer Nigel Slater is based on his memoir 'Toast: The Story of A Boy's Hunger'. I have not read the book but the movie is as dry and unappetising as its title. The first half, which has Nigel played by newcomer Oscar Kennedy, is engaging and sometimes funny. However, when Freddie Highmore takes over as the older Nigel boy, the movie loses its realism and moral ground and descends into the depths of food-porn backed by poor reproductions of Dusty Springfield's Sixties hits.
|Helena Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore|
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Nigel Slater's interest in food apparently starts at a young age - at nine when he goes shopping with his beloved mom (Victoria Hamilton) and she will only buy canned food which she boils unopened in the pot. Whenever mommy ruins dinner for Nigel and his dad (Ken Stott), she will resort to the only 'food' she does best: the Toast of the title. Hunger fans Nigels interest in food but he finds inspiration in fresh produce from the gardener (Matthew McNulty as Josh) whom he admires.
However, his relationship with Josh ends when Nigel tells his father that he has seen Josh naked when he changed into his overalls. Daddy fires Josh and replaces him. This aside, Nigel faces another tragedy when his mother dies. Her place is soon taken over by Mrs Potter (Helena Bonham Carter), a cleaning lady and a great chef who gradually worms her way into daddy's heart. When Nigel opts for home economics as an elective in school, a culinary war starts between he and Mrs Potter.
|Helena Bonham Carter steals the show as usual|
HITS & MISSES: The first half of the movie is absorbing because we root for young Kennedy who provided a riveting performance as the precocious Nigel. Director Clarkson's keen attention to details in the sets also helps to anchor the movie to the era of the Swinging Sixties - although the soundtrack at the media preview kinda spoilt Springfield's songs.
Whatever we have felt for Kennedy disappears when Highmore comes into the picture. His Nigel still carries an unexplained grudge for Mrs Potter who goes all out to please him and his father in the one way she knows how - through their stomach. In return, Nigel displays snobbery and selfishness that almost makes him into a villain. Again, this biodrama suffers the flaws of The Lady and The Iron Lady. A huge and important chunk of Nigel's life is left out! This concerns the start of his career as a food writer. Unless there is a Toast Part Two, this omission is nothing short of negligence.
THE LOWDOWN: For Slater readers and art film fans.