American audiences who are unfamiliar with the British writer of the memoir on which this film is based will have a pretty firm handle on him about 10 minutes into this light biopic that originally aired on BBC television. Nigel Slater (12-year-old Oscar Kennedy) is a food-obsessed only child living in Wolverhampton in the 1960s who makes masturbatory noises while browsing the pages of cookbooks, daydreams about working at a grocery store, and is physical attracted to his family’s hunky gardener Josh. Nigel’s hardworking father (Ken Stott) is easily agitated and his ailing asthmatic mother (Victoria Hamilton) is an incompetent cook. When she promises Nigel that she’ll teach him to bake mince pies at Christmas it’s pretty obvious, from a conventional standpoint, that she’s soon to part from this world. Enter brash housekeeper/talented cook Ms. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) who eventually marries Nigel’s father and begins an unnatural cooking war with a now teenaged Nigel (Freddie Highmore). Nigel’s culinary skills have improved thanks to home economics (he’s the only male in his class), but he’s no match for his highly competitive stepmother when it comes to winning his father’s attention. The father unexpectedly dies right around the time that Nigel has his first kiss, Nigel abandons his home for a new life in London where he gets a job in the kitchen at Savoy, and the rest of the soon-to-be famous food writer’s life is conveyed in titles. The end.
Toast is a harmless and breezy affair with a visual style akin to a postcard from the era. Food is fetishised in mouth-watering detail and special attention is given to both the machinery and the general atmosphere of the era (expect lots of cooking montages set to popular music). Sequences in which the young lead waxes poetically about the magic of the titular comfort food surely work much better on the printed page than they do in voice-over form, but the performances are solid and the dialogue believable. A schmaltzy, sincere outing that is perfect viewing for those with a nostalgia for the time period.
Toast opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse and Cinema 16:9.