April 19th 2012 04:33
An affectionate glimpse back at the formative years of acclaimed British food writer Nigel Slater (played by Oscar Kennedy aged 9 and later, Freddie Highmore), Toast reveals the very beginnings of his fascination with all that is culinary. Slaterís mother (Victoria Hamilton) was a lost cause in the kitchen however, her experiments with simplicity usually ending in absurdly comical disasters. The filmís title is a reference to her final resort Ė a trusty piece of buttered toast for her boy when all else fails.
Despite his mother's ineptness, young Nigel's senses are constantly stirred by books showcasing an exotic range of foods neither his mum nor dad (Ken Stott) have heard of, let alone contemplated putting in their mouths. Like spaghetti bolognaise, for example, something surely no young English boy should be partaking of.
Nigelís imagination canít be suppressed and the death of his long unwell mum only provokes a desire to experiment further through exploration of the diverse culinary offerings the world has to offer. Heís spurred on further by the introduction of a housekeeper, Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter), who will eventually become his fatherís new partner and a regular fixture in the Slater household.
Nigel hates her instantly, of course, though sheís a spectacular cook, worming her way into Mr. Slaterís heart via his rapidly expanding stomach. Nigel struggles to compete but takes the ridicule of his all-female classmates in Home Economics to strengthen his skills in the kitchen, thus setting him on the path to his true vocation.
The shortcomings of Toast (2011), a modest, leisurely but enjoyably quaint film directed by S.J. Clarkson, are glaring but hardly fatal. The span of years covered is frustratingly limited, for example. Certainly the early months of Mr.Slaterís relationship with Mrs. Potter deserve to take precedence for the influence they exert on Nigelísí impressionable young mind. Yet for a while, the narrative feels bogged down in time, like a snow globe - encompassing a single scenario - being shaken one too many times for the same effect.
Dulled by a visual aesthetic catering to a need for nostalgic reverie, the film also feels like a telemovie, a fact that shouldnít necessarily count against it. The performances are all strong, especially Bonham Carter who plays up the underclass impunity of her role with slyness; she never over-reaches, meaning we almost warm to Mrs. Potter whilst simultaneously despising the underhanded tricks she employs to keep Nigel beneath her in the pecking order.
Toast will be released on DVD by Paramount/Transmission films on April 25.
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