fri 18/09/2020

Toast, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Toast, BBC One

Toast, BBC One

Chef's TV autobiog is warm and buttery, but without crunch

All the time I was watching Toast last night, based on Nigel Slater’s memoir of his early years, I was wondering whether it was filmed for the benefit of the audience or of Slater himself. The final scene (no spoiler – we know how this story ends) where the young Slater ran away to join the kitchen at the Savoy was revealing: the head chef who gave him a job was played by Nigel Slater, reassuring his younger self that “you’ll be all right”. This felt more like therapy than drama.

But who can deny the author his right to redemption, especially when he has had to survive Helena Bonham Carter reprising Mrs Lovett, pies and all? Oscar Kennedy played the first incarnation of Slater, the boy who can't understand why his mother (Victoria Hamilton) will only make dinner by boiling tins, or why his father (Ken Stott) has such a short temper. When his mother died only a few days after he wished this on her (more authorial expiation?), his father hired brassy, sexy Mrs Potter (Bonham Carter) to clean the house, and quicker than you could say Mr Sheen, she became a permanent fixture. Mrs Potter, it turned out, was quite the cook, another reason for Slater to hate her.

Food was the battleground for all of Slater’s relationships. When he tried to introduce his parents to spaghetti Bolognese (this is Wolverhampton in the Sixties), his father thought the Parmesan cheese in a shaker smelled like sick; this was, of course, the perverse era when raw vegetables were seen as common. His mother betrayed Nigel when she couldn't show him how to make mince pies, which led him to curse her. And the film suggested that half of Slater’s reason for becoming a cook was to compete for his father’s love with Mrs Potter. Never before has lemon meringue pie been such a bone of contention (to mix culinary metaphors).

Kennedy’s sweet, open face dealt with his desire for his family’s gardener and his distress at Mrs Potter’s invasion with equal calm and wonder, and his teenage self, played by Freddie Highmore (previously seen in the equally food-obsessed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), hid his calculation under a similar beatific veneer. There was the devil in him, however: Stott, sick of his son and wife undermining one another with their competitive cooking, yelled, “Enough fighting, enough food!” Stott’s girth expanded ceaselessly, yet he kept his emotional expressions tight, hardly moving beyond yelling at Nigel or flailing for feeling with his dying wife. Much more lavish with her emotions was Bonham Carter, although the sunny exterior she projected masks an icy heart set on survival, and like her recent Mrs Lovett, she cooks, damn the consequences.

Toast is a tasty item, warm and buttery, but there was little we had not seen before. While Slater’s memoir might be a tart evocation of the era, on film this was really a well-acted but unoriginal coming-of-age story. How do you suggest the atmosphere and anguished longing of the Sixties? Have a Dusty Springfield soundtrack. How is our hero’s emerging sexuality conveyed? Let him stare at the hunky gardener’s arse when he’s getting changed. Even the central theme – food as redemption and competition – has been well chewed-over.

Comments

An overcooked meat & two veg' of a review review.... .You've missunderstood the meaning of "expiation" .Her fine cookery was originaly the only thing he liked about Ms Potter .How did his mother "betray" him? Dissapoint and upset yes, but "betray"? .You come dangerously close to misunderstanding metaphor. ."Unoriginal"....eh, it's a biographical piece.

Having devoured the book over Chrsitmas and thoroughly enoyed it,I was bitterly dissappointed in the television adaptation. So many important points were omitted. The Mother didn't even burn the toast. No rounded description of the food - no mention of sherbet fountains and Angel Delight. I wish I had never watched it - my enjoyment in the book was completely spoilt.

Loved it, but Helena Bonham Carter's accent was aaaaawwwwffffuuuullll. She sounded Australian for half of it.

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