Wolverhampton,1967: nine year old Nigel Slater loves his mother though she is a hopeless cook, her finest offering being toast whilst he has great culinary aspirations. When she dies of asthma Nigel is left with a distant father but worse is to come when the ‘common’ Mrs. Joan Potter arrives as the Slaters’ cleaner. Nigel fears, rightly, that her aim is to be the next Mrs. Slater and soon he has a new stepmother and is whisked away to the country. Joan is, however, a superb cook but this only makes for rivalry as Nigel, the only boy in his cookery class at secondary school, competes with her to find the way to his father’s heart. A weekend job in a pub kitchen introduces Nigel to an older boy, another great cook and gay like himself, who gives him the confidence and inspiration to leave home after his father’s death and head for the hotel kitchens of London.
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User Reviews: The film, Toast, is based upon the autobiographical book, Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger, written by English food writer, journalist and broadcaster, Nigel Slater. It is a memoir of Slater’s early years and his memories of his mother who died when he was just 9 years old.
The book/film is entitled Toast as that was the ONE food his mother was able to successfully cook … and he tells us that a person will always love the one who prepared slices of the warm, crunchy, buttery goodness to you as a child. The young Nigel must’ve held true to this mantra even in childhood, as he never accepted or trusted his father’s new "cleaning lady", Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter – Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), who won her way into his father’s heart with her culinary expertise … much to Nigel’s chagrin.
As Nigel was already interested in food (he’d drool over the exotic cheeses at his local grocer or sneak a flashlight into his bed to look at the mouth-watering pictures in the family cookbooks), he eventually becomes highly competitive with Mrs. Potter in hopes of winning-over his always-distant father.
Toast takes place over a span of ten years and so Nigel is played by two different actors. Young Nigel is played by a remarkable Oscar Kennedy who is making his feature film debut (!!!) while the older, teenage Nigel is played by Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland, The Spiderwick Chronicles). Highmore is a great, young actor; but it is surprising to admit that the younger, less-experienced Kennedy outshines him in this film as Kennedy’s Nigel does more of the grieving and Highmore is scripted to do more of the pouting.
Toast isn’t as boring as the title makes it sound; nor is it overly compelling as it turns into a most-conventional, lite-biopic. Bonham Carter is always good and her scheming, competitively outrageous behavior here is the butter on this piece of toast. The film is about Nigel Slater (kind of a blank page as he gets older) but he wouldn’t have become who he is without the provocation of this film’s Kitchen Queen, Mrs. Potter … nor would the film be what it is without Bonham Carter.