Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Nigel Slater's Toast: Not about Nigel Marven

The nostalgic rite-of-passage drama Toast, based on the memoirs of TV chef Nigel Slater, told its story well.

But I spent the first twenty minutes unsure who Slater actually was, and instead had assembled an image based instead on another Nigel - Nigel Marven, the wildlife presenter.

Which, on reflection, may have made an equally absorbing 90 minutes of good telly:

"But dad I want to study Botany and pursue Great White Sharks in far flung places!"

And young Nigel Marven's dad, who is probably from Lancashire, I dunno, would reply: "Pipe down son, you're carrying on the family tradition of..." Erm. "...working in a shop."

But once I recalled Slater's 'Simple Suppers' programme and got the right Nigel, all was straight in my head - it's important to get your own internal narrative ticking along nicely in order to enjoy someone else's.

Ken Stott played Slater's annoyed and under-pressure father, having to deal (badly) with the decline and then death of his wife, herself unable to nurture young Nigel's interest in fresh food and cooking.

Instead, she'd always make toast and they'd eat it together.

Later, Nigel's widowed father marries Mrs Potter, their uncouth cleaner from Wolverhampton - but she's actually a whizz in the kitchen.

She whips up dish after ambitious dish - all photographed in vibrant colours, set against the dreary claustrophobic colours of the 1960s decor - but Nigel doesn't take to her, and after his father's death when he's 17, he leaves for London and a first job at The Savoy (recruited by Nigel Slater himself, in a small cameo role).

As explained in this piece in The Telegraph, the film had a long gestation, and its writer simplified the original memoir, removing other family members from Nigel's story, which has the effect of making Nigel's childhood that bit more sad for all us viewers who like a wallow.

But changes for dramatic reasons or not, the result is - hooray! - a success. It's an evocative, nostalgic - for food, for youth, for childhood - warm and engaging film.

Now about this Nigel Marven biography. Who can we get to play the croc?

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