Boiling Point is a sizzling drama set in a hip London restaurant on the busiest night of the year. We follow head chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) for the evening as he fends off domestic dramas and addiction problems, all the while trying to manage a series of professional stresses.
With an uptight health inspector, a stylish food critic and his former boss, celebrity chef Alastair (played with greasy wit by Jason Flemyng), all descending on the restaurant that evening, Andy has a lot on his plate. Luckily in the kitchen he has strong allies in Carly (Vinette Robinson) and Freeman (Ray Panthaki). Can they make it through the toughest of nights?
Director Phil Barantini’s second feature, co-written with James Cummings, is a thrilling, lean and immersive ride. Partly, this is because of the film’s impeccably executed form – after extensive rehearsals, cinematographer Matt Lewis shot the film in one continuous take, much like Sebastian Schipper’s Berlin-set heist film Victoria (2015) – but it’s also due to the film’s rigorous sense of authenticity, rooted in the director’s own life experiences. The film was shot at Jones & Sons in Dalston, a restaurant owned by one of Barantini’s best friends, Andy Jones (after whom Graham’s character was clearly named in tribute).
Barantini sat down to discuss making the film, his own experiences as a chef and his friendship with his leading man.
You developed Boiling Point from your 2019 short. Where did the story initially come from?
I was an actor for 25 years, but I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. I needed to make some money, so I started working in kitchens and worked my way up to becoming a head chef after 10 years. I’d seen everything there is to see in that world, and gone through my own issues. I’d always thought if I ever directed something, I’d love to set something in that world because it was just ripe for everything – drama, bit of comedy, whatever it may be.
I made a short film and it did alright at the festivals. I know Stephen Graham quite well, so I showed him the film. I’d asked him to be in that first short and he basically said, “Let’s get your first one out the way and see how you get on. Then we’ll talk.” So I did that, then pitched him this idea.
You say you had “issues”. Issues with what, specifically?
I’m totally open to talking about it because I struggled quite hard with addiction, and I’ve been sober for six years now. My life is in a completely different place now, but I take each day as it comes. There were certain moments when I was partying hard and having the best time, but there were other times when I was really down and lonely, and I wouldn’t come home and my wife was struggling.
Everything that’s in the movie is loosely based on my experiences. If this movie can shine and someone thinks, “I can relate to that” or “I know someone who’s going through something similar, maybe I’ll reach out to them and see if they’re okay” – that’s the message for the movie, in a way.
I wanted to show that everybody has got two masks. There’s the forward-facing mask and the private mask. The private mask is not always as jolly as the forward-facing mask. I think it’s important to try and help people and make sure your mates are okay and be there for people. Or reach out if you are struggling, as well.
You’ve known Stephen for years. Could you tell us about your relationship and how you work together?
We became really close mates over the last five or six years. My mum sadly passed away five years ago, quite suddenly. That was what made me want to make the leap into directing. Because I’d never had the confidence to do it before that. Stephen and I became very close, so the working relationship was like brothers. Sometimes you argue about stuff, and then it’s all fine.
Any director who’s ever worked with him, or even actors who’ve worked with him, they’ll know that he’s an absolute whirlwind. You wind him up and let him go, and just let him do his thing. He understands everybody’s role, and he’s so generous with all the other actors. He didn’t even want to have his own dressing room or anything like that. He wanted to be with everybody.
It’s Andy’s story, but among the cast you’ve interesting, recognisable restaurant characters. Which character do you have the most sympathy for?
Because I’ve written this, and it’s loosely based on my life and people I know, I think I’ve got sympathy for all of them. But mostly for Andy, because I went through that and I know that there’s other people that are going through the same thing. Someone emailed me not so long ago, who’d watched the short film. He said, “I’ve been a chef for many years. My wife and I have just had a baby. I watched the film and it’s made me go in today and hand my notice in. Because I’ve just seen myself in that character and I don’t want to be found convulsing on the floor.”
How did your cast prepare for their roles?
You would think most actors have worked in hospitality, but I managed to choose actors that had never worked in a restaurant before. So we had to start from scratch, not with all of them but with some of them, like with Lauryn Ajufo who plays Andrea. I said, “Go into a shift at Jones & Sons, so you know the space and you can see how busy it gets.” And Taz Skylar who plays the barman, Billy, he went and worked behind a bar for a few weeks and did a cocktail-making course.
The chefs went and did some stuff with Tom Brown, our chef consultant on the movie. I said to them, “You’re never going to turn these guys into chefs within the space of a couple of days, but at least make them look like they can move like chefs and talk like chefs.” It was the next best thing to training them up, showing them how to hold a knife and spoon and all that kind of stuff. With a bit more time, we probably would’ve been able to get them making something really complex.
Boiling Point is in cinemas and on BFI Player from 7 January 2022.