Writers: Philip Barantini and James Cummings
Director: Philip Barantini
Stephen Graham can do no wrong. After appearing on TV this year as a prison warden in Jimmy McGovern’s Time and as a man with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Jack Thorne’s Covid drama Help, Graham now plays a chef in Boiling Point, a film that he also produced. Filmed in a single take, this restaurant drama will have you watching on a knife-edge.
While there might be an added thrill of watching a movie filmed in a single shot, it’s, of course, muted by the fact that the filmmakers have chosen the best version of the film, the one without the visible mistakes and miscues. But it definitely feels like real life. A few times the action leaves the restaurant and moves briefly to the street outside or to offices and it’s a testament to director Philip Barantini that we believe life continues in the restaurant as normal; food is cooked, wine is poured and waiters serve. Not once do we think that the actors are taking a short break, drinking from bottled water or getting into place before the camera finds them again The restaurant feels exhilaratingly alive, a place that persists beyond the camera’s lens.
It starts with every restaurateur’s nightmare; a visit from the local council’s environmental health. The official finds fault in nearly everything. Kitchen stations are messy, one of the chefs washes her hands in the sink designated for food preparation, but the official’s biggest beef is with Graham’s Andy. The paperwork hasn’t been filled out correctly and this means that the restaurant’s ratings will slip from five stars to three.
It’s not only the paperwork that Andy is forgetting; he’s spaced placing the food orders the night before. His second-in-command (a wonderfully patient and loyal Vinette Robinson) warns him that they may not have enough food for the evening, and when the restaurant manager happily announces that they have picked up more bookings for the night the film lurches agreeably into disaster mode. There’s the angry customer about to lose his rag; here’s the chef struggling to open oysters with a knife; the woman with the food allergy; and the rival chef wanting revenge. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite all these dominoes lined up ready to topple, the heart of the story remains with Graham’s character and whether he will be the one to fall. Looking tired and harassed, Graham gives such a superb performance that you can almost smell last night’s alcohol on him. He wanders around the kitchen not entirely unaware that his days as king are numbered. He’s backed into a corner, but too fatigued to battle his way out. He senses his end is coming, but is not sure from which direction.
The film’s increasing focus on Graham’s chef means that the film never reaches its promised 100 degrees, and the dramas on the restaurant floor never reach the main course stage. Instead, Boiling Point simmers along nicely.
Boiling Point is screening at the London Film Festival.