An unsatisfying meal – Toast review

Toast – Starring Oscar Kennedy, Helena Bonham Carter, and Freddie Highmore. Directed by S.J. Clarkson. Rated M. By Hilary Simmons.

Toast is now available on DVD.

There are surely worse things in life than to grow up eating toast. When ruminative grandparents recount their tales of walking six miles in the snow or sharing one shabby blanket between seven siblings, they rarely, if ever, mention munching hot, buttery toast for supper as having done them any harm. Nigel Slater, however, a prominent British foodie, has written an autobiography about his working-class childhood eating that most British of staple foods: toast.

Director S.J. Clarkson, who is making the transition from television to film producer, delivered Toast: the Story of a Boy’s Hunger as a 2009 BBC telefilm. It attracted six million viewers – probably because it stars Helena Bonham Carter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nigel (Oscar Kennedy) is a peevish 9-year-old who adores his asthmatic mother but despairs of her inability to cook anything that doesn’t come out of a can. His Mum’s culinary specialty is – yep – toast. Nigel develops a fetishistic obsession with food and pants heavily over the pages of cookbooks under his blanket (his dad thinks he’s masturbating). He attempts to make spaghetti bolognaise for his nervous Mum and irritable Dad, but it’s too continental for their conservative tastebuds, so they all end up eating toast again.

Tragedy strikes when Nigel’s Mum dies and a chain-smoking cleaner from the council estates (Bonham Carter) promptly captures Dad’s heart with her provocative outfits and magnificent lemon meringue pie. Mrs. Potter’s consummate cooking skills are honed by a calculated determination to become the new Mrs. Slater. Nigel – now played by the older Freddie Highmore – is cast to one side like some food-centric Cinderella.

When father, son and slattern move to the country, the oven mitts come off and the competitive cooking battle commences, leading to the film’s most visually toothsome and verbally tart scenes.

Toast is mildly entertaining and moonlights as a mail-order catalogue of 60s food, interiors and clothing as well as a sensationalised memoir. Screenwriter Lee Hall neatly serves up a subplot about Nigel’s sexual identity and the soundtrack is glutinously rich with Dusty Springfield. The main problem is that, throughout, Nigel comes off as an officious little prick who relates better to food than to people.


Toast is now available on DVD.

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