The term ‘charming’, when used in this context, could tar a film with connotations of being fluffy and insubstantial; perhaps even twee.
Fortunately, this adaptation of food writer Nigel Slater’s highly evocative memoir is none of these things, and yet is possibly the most charming film you may see in a long time. Indeed, if you’ll excuse the pun, the only fluffy thing on offer here is the lemon meringue pie cooked up by Nigel’s step-mother, Mrs. Potter, ably played by Helena Bonham-Carter.
It is this relationship that forms much of the backbone of Slater’s formative years, and thus the film itself. After the untimely death of his mother, both young Nigel and his new step-mother vie for his father’s approval through food and it is the food of Nigel’s early life that frames much of the story.
How accurately Toast evokes this particular aspect of 1960s England is for others to judge, but it certainly looks wonderful and manages to feel quintessentially British. The whole thing is shot through with a subtle mix of wry humour (at a dismal picnic on a grey, windswept beach Nigel is told ‘of course you have to have ham – you’re on holiday!’) and sometimes truly heart-breaking moments of sadness. With a cast that includes the aforementioned Bonham-Carter, Ken Stott and the irritatingly talented young actor Freddie Highmore, Toast was never really going to disappoint.
However, fans of the book in particular may feel that everything is a little compressed in the 90-minute runtime. This is perhaps a necessary part of any film adaptation, but still the whole thing can feel a little rushed at times. A case in point is that Nigel’s complicated relationship with Josh, the gardener, is over and done with within about five minutes. Even worse is that we never really get a feel for why Nigel dislikes Mrs. Potter so much – in the book she’s undoubtedly a bit of a monster, but here it initially seems like he doesn’t like her purely because she’s lower class, which makes him more difficult to sympathise with as a main character. Mrs. Potter reveals her true colours eventually, but this is another aspect that could have used more development.
This relatively small niggle aside, Toast really is a lovely, assuredly charming, little film, and one that is well worth your time if you missed its original airing on BBC One last Christmas.
Released on DVD on Monday 28th March 2011 by Momentum Pictures.