Boiling Point

Boiling Point (2021)

Boiling Point first published by

There is a scene in the middle of Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point when TV celebrity chef Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng) flamboyantly adds a sprinkle of za’atar that he has just ostentatiously requested from waitress Robyn (Áine Rose Daly), to bring to his idea of perfection a dish that he says is only “98% there”. His dining companion Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes), though herself a restaurant critic with a fearsome reputation for harshness, is embarrassed by Alastair’s display. “It’s unpretentious, it doesn’t complicate itself, it’s lovely, it’s simple,” she says of the dish, recalling her fellow critic Anton Ego’s similar response to the title dish from from Brad Bird’s Ratatouille (2007). “I quite like it and reviewing is – it’s like sex. You go by what’s there, not by what’s not there, you know.”

Sara’s description of her meal serves equally as a breakdown of what Barantini has on the menu. Expanded from his 2019 short film of the same name, with Stephen Graham reprising his lead rôle, this might offer us a snapshot of the kitchen, dining rooms, bar areas, bathrooms and back alleys that make up a successful restaurant over one busy night in the build-up to Christmas, and might follow an ensemble of cooks, serving staff and customers, but what brings (apparent) simplicity to this otherwise complex mix of characters, ingredients and flavours is the film’s formal presentation: a single, sinuous take, from beginning to bitter end, which brings a real-time immediacy to everything on screen, disguising all the behind-the-scenes sophistication beneath the straightforward linearity of DP Matthew Lewis’ camerawork. 

That said, Boiling Point makes constant play of contrasting what is happening on the restaurant’s floor, as moneyed diners and influencers bask in the momentary trendiness of the establishment, and the struggles behind the kitchen counter to keep the food coming and the demanding clientèle happy. At the centre of all this is Andy Jones (Graham), the head chef and a former employee of dining guest Alastair. Arriving late for work, Andy finds Alan Lovejoy (Thomas Coombes) from the Environmental Agency waiting for him, and sees his restaurant’s health rating downgraded from five stars to three. Andy is quick to berate his staff for their minor infringements of food standards, making it first appear that he will be an exacting, aggressive Gordon Ramsay type – but in fact the lowered rating comes down mostly to Andy’s own sloppy record keeping. 

Indeed, as the evening goes on, all the problems in the kitchen will essentially be the fault of Andy, with his sous-chef Carly (Vinette Robinson) and meat chef Freeman (Ray Panthaki) growing ever more exasperated with their boss’ carelessness and distraction as they are left to pick up the endless slack. Even as the restaurant seems to be at the peak of its popularity, with Andy a rising star on the culinary scene, we catch glimpses of this chef’s foibles and frailties, as his private issues start poisoning everything around him. Various other members of staff – commis pastry chef Jamie (Stephen McMillan), maître d’ Beth (Alice Feetham) and dishwasher Jeff (Daniel Larkai)  – may be concealing personal problems, but Andy’s are bigger, and as captain of this ship, he risks bringing it down with him.  

If Boiling Point were filmed in a more conventional manner, with lots of cuts in the editing suite to match all the chopping and carving in the kitchen, then its soapier elements would bubble more to the surface. Yet as the food critic said, judgment should be made of what’s there rather than of what’s not there, and the presentation of this night’s events in one fluid, uninterrupted take brings a vividly immersive perspective on the inner workings of both a bustling, buzzy restaurant and its beleaguered staff, allowing the viewer to be a fly on the wall as things start to break down. It is thrillingly tense – and while all the sweetest scenes aptly take place in the pastry station run by Emily (Hannah Walters), these are offset by a tartness that will eventually come to dominate.  

Strap: Philip Barantini’s kitchen-sink drama is a single-take, real-time, fly-on-the-wall tour de force of heated tension.

Anton Bitel