I'm sure many of you thought I was going to post about the fine art of crisped bread, warmed and slathered with butter and jam (which, yes, I actually am quite the expert on). In this case, Toast is a delightfully quirky film about Nigel Slater, the famous cookery writer, and his lonely childhood as he seeks comfort in food. Being on this side of the pond, and not much into cooking shows, memoirs, and the like, I shamefully admit that I was completely unaware of Mr. Slater, so I was simply swept away in a whimsical film starring Helena Bonham Carter, one of my favorite actresses.
Set in the 1960s, this imaginatively filmed story explains the very foundation for why Nigel Slater fell in love with cooking. When Nigel's mother passes away, neither Nigel or his father turn to each other for comfort.
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Truer words could not have been spoken for Joan Potter, played by Helena Bonham Carter, as she sashays her way into their lives, brilliantly cleaning and cooking, leaving her own unhappy life behind. Unfortunately, she is severely lacking in warmth, or even compassion, for the young boy who becomes her stepson, and although young Nigel is enamored with food and recipes and delectably edible creations (to the point that looking at cookbooks under the covers late at night with a flashlight instead of a risque magazine is the norm for him) he and his new stepmom never see eye to eye.
Instead, their mutual love of food and what it can do to win the notice and affection of Nigel's father is the center of it all, and the competition begins to heat up. Nigel's love affair with food continues throughout his young life, and when he decides to take Home Economics instead of Shop class in high school, he flourishes even more. Now, though, the competitiveness becomes a tangible thing between Nigel and his stepmother, as now Nigel understands the basics and the science of cooking good food. Can Nigel win his father's attention? Or will Joan maintain the sole adoration? When the battle comes down to lemon meringue pie, it is deliciously heartbreaking.
Though the film pops of humor, it's actually a very sad story. Nigel's memoir clearly translates well, and beautifully, to the big screen. This is not, though, a film for those who prefer a lot of movement and fast-pacing; instead, this is for those who are prepared to enjoy a slowly told, illusory and offbeat tale centered around food. With its brilliant moments of dark, sad humor, swirled around recipes and the 1960s, it's a film I'll watch again, and soon. The visual appeal of the time is wonderful and represented well with its soft hues, and there are some seriously heart-wrenching moments of contradiction as Nigel's father dismisses everything his young son tries to make, yet raves over everything Mrs. Potter throws together. I wanted to reach into the story and beg his father to notice his son, just once, to take note of Nigel's wonderful attempts to try, to make spaghetti bolognese, if only just to please his father.
Without question, Helena Bonham Carter is perfectly cast as the chain-smoking woman from the wrong side of the tracks who is hired as the family's housekeeper after the mother passes away, and who seductively wedges her way into their lives. Oscar Kennedy as the nine-year-old Nigel is unbelievably good and I can't wait to see how his career evolves. Freddie Highmore as the teenage Nigel knocks it out of the park, and I've just realized he was in the film Finding Neverland. Ken Stott as Nigel's father is *it,* he is the right guy for this role. Well cast, filmed, and directed.
Loved this movie. Clearly, I now need to read all of Nigel Slater's books.
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Nigel Slater Image Credit from the BBC.
Nigel Slater Image Credit from the BBC.