Boiling Point
BTS of Boiling Point shoot day

BN1 Chats with Philip Barantini

British director creates a stir with debut feature and new TV series

With a slick, but unobtrusive, camera technique and a troupe of talented actors who are passionately inhabiting their characters, Boiling Point gives us a tantalising glimpse at a broad spectrum of human experience. This British independent film takes the concept of following events in a busy restaurant for an evening and expands it into something quietly profound.

Released at the start of last year, to initially minimal fanfare, it has gone on to attract copious award nominations and inspire a much-anticipated sequel series on the BBC. “Surprised is an understatement,” the film’s director, Philip Barantini, tells me. “We never set out to make a film which would go to the BAFTAs, it was more of a passion project. I’d worked in kitchens for many years, and I wanted to show something truthful from my experience.”

Set on a feverishly busy night, just before Christmas, Boiling Point stars the sublimely-talented Stephen Graham as chef Andy Jones. He is enduring the shift from hell at Jones & Sons – an upmarket London eatery filled with difficult guests and straining under the weight of behind-the-scenes disputes. Shot in a single take, the camera glides around, through and beyond the busy premises, pulling an array of stories into the spiralling visceral chaos. Jones is already running late, his personal life increasingly revealed to be in tatters. Waiting for him at the restaurant is a fastidious, but weirdly chummy, health inspector, a vociferous food critic accompanied by an old rival of Andy’s and the news that vital supplies haven’t been ordered. There’s also a bunch of ‘influencers’, special food requirements and a diner with questionable views on diversity.

Barantini tells me this wasn’t intended to be a pitch-perfect representation of the hospitality industry, but more an honest interpretation drawn from his personal experiences. “Everything that’s in the movie is something I went through. I also wanted people to relate to certain aspects of it. We’re all going through stuff in our lives, and the person next to you might not know what you’re experiencing. I wanted the audience to feel that with each character.” Just like in real life, we often get mere seconds with people, and then they’re gone again. This naturalistic approach flows through the script created by Barantini and writing partner James Cummings, where concise exposition and dialogue immerses the audience in numerous unfolding micro-narratives.

Creating characters and dynamics which are so instantly well-rounded was the product of extensive workshops and rehearsals. Barantini’s approach was to let each actor develop their character’s backstories. “It’s important to let them be free in that respect. When they get on set and become that character, it comes from a truthful place, as opposed to being forced upon them. So, we found the nuances in rehearsals. It’s about talking and going through different emotions together.”

Boiling Point extends the scope of Barantini’s BIFA-nominated short film of the same name, similarly filmed in a single shot. The technique is far from revolutionary, Hitchcock’s psychological drama, Rope, presents itself as four long takes, 2014’s Birdman also attempts to appear as a single take and Sebastian Schipper’s brilliant crime thriller, Victoria, genuinely succeeds in using a single shot. Where Boiling Point excels is its immersion of audiences in the perfectly-orchestrated action, instead of providing an immediate spectacle.

Since producing his short film, Barantini had few doubts about using the technique again as it created the vibe he wanted. “We tried writing a conventional script, but nothing was exciting us. We kept going back to the one-take thing. I just sat up in bed one night and mapped it all out in my head. Obviously, the cinematographer was important to get on-board because he’s got to carry a camera around for an hour and a half. The next one was Stephen. Which turned out to be an easy sell… But he did think I was crazy.”

Obviously, directing a film like this was no simple process. When interviewing people for the project, anybody expressing doubts about its feasibility was instantly discounted. “It was also how we got the cast onboard. ‘First of all, are you up for the challenge and then do you think you can do it?’ We were certainly extensively workshopping it with improv in mind.” After seeing the finished article, it’s difficult to imagine how you could portray the busy kitchen environment in any other way.

It’s also difficult to picture anyone other than Stephen Graham bringing this tormented chef to life. As one of Britain’s finest actors, Graham has been celebrated for his work on productions such as This Is England, Snatch, Gangs of New York, Line of Duty, Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders, his work on Boiling Point is no less powerful. “I’ve known him for over 20 years,” says Barantini. “…since we did Band Of Brothers. I called him up to be in my first short film, and he was like: ‘Tell you what, why don’t you get this first one out the way and we’ll see how you get on.’” Obviously Barantini respected the decision and was still eager to show Graham the finished short film – and pitch the next one in an exciting way.

Barantini says Grahm, despite being a bona-fide Hollywood star, is the most humble, down-to-Earth human being you’ll ever meet. “Nothing phases him. He gets embarrassed talking about Martin Scorsese, and stuff like that. For someone from Kirby, to be doing what he’s doing, he should be shouting about it. He loves where he’s come from, and he’s stayed true to that. I respect him massively.” When writing the short film version of Boiling Point, he genuinely had Graham in mind. “The range he has as an actor… he can do incredibly emotional, and really scary. There was a part in his early career when he was always playing hardmen. He’s worked to steer away from that. I can’t think of anyone else who could play this role now.”

Sliding into awards season, Boiling Point was nominated for eleven of them at the 2021 British Independent Film Awards and won four — including Best Supporting Actress for Vinette Robinson, Best Casting, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. At last BAFTAs, it received four nominations: Outstanding British Film, Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer for writer James Cummings and producer Hester Ruoff, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Graham and Best Casting for Carolyn Mcleod.

The recognition has continued to manifest in a special Blu-ray release, giving audiences the chance to explore further, with audio commentaries by producers and actors, special discussions with the crew and ‘making of’ features. A limited version of the release also offers artwork, a special slipcase and a soft cover book, containing essays and interviews about the project. “I never thought the film would do what it’s done. Now it’s getting this boxset…I’m so proud of everyone involved.” He says he’s overwhelmed by the plaudits the project received, from audiences, critics and the hospitality industry. “Obviously, it’s not for everyone, because film is a subjective art. But I had an email from a chef who basically ‘was Andy’. He said when he saw the character, he saw himself in the future, so he’s gone to get help. All because of a film.”

It brings something different to everyone who watches. For anyone working in hospitality, it’ll conjure memories of an industry which is slowly getting its house in order regarding how staff are treated. Cinephiles will marvel at the technical dexterity of the sound design, camerawork, and well-drilled players. But, for many, this is an intriguing bundle of disparate stories flashing before our eyes. There are few big narrative pay-offs. As with real life, these stories drift off into the darkness beyond our encounters with them.

Thankfully, it portrays a set of attitudes in the industry which are on the wane. There’s a greater awareness of issues amongst hospitality, particularly around mental health. “There are changes for the better. Kitchens are a lot calmer these days, especially in the high-level places with Michelin stars. You can’t get away with being an arsehole to the staff anymore. But it’s still like that in some restaurants.”

From microaggressions and personal dramas, to the more obvious set-pieces which place all the staff under more pressure, everything feeds into the film’s unrelenting momentum. This frenetic, darkly humorous film creates an environment which feel real and lived-in. It doesn’t just say something about the restaurant industry but casts a gaze on the broad slice of humanity amongst its patrons. And now the world Barantini has created is set to expand with a new BBC TV show.

“We’d been talking about maybe doing a second film, because of the hype. But would we do it in a single take? Probably not, because we don’t want to repeat that. But what if we do a TV series, because we can explore the characters even further. Literally, that same week, I got an email from the BBC.” Currently, he’s in Manchester doing pre-production work, with five episodes being broadcast later this year.

Stephen Graham and Philip Barantini

It’ll pick up six months after events in the film. Now the cast are facing the repercussions of that fateful night. Barantini directs the first two episodes and James Cummings returns as the writer. It gives the pair a chance to explore these characters and situations they’ve helped create. There are even murmurs that the idea could see spin-offs in other countries. Everywhere has restaurants. All with their curious staff dynamics and a ceaseless flow of demanding guests. “You never know what’s going to walk in the door, and you can’t stop it. That’s the beauty of this particular world.”

The Boiling Point limited edition Blu-ray is available now. Phillip Barantini and James Cummings TV version will be on BBC TV later in 2023.

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