In the world of Boiling Point, emotions run high outside the kitchen as well as in: when director Phil Barantini watched the first episode of the upcoming TV show, he found himself crying.
“It was mad,” he says. “There was no-one in there, we were in the massive room [with the] massive screen at the BFI. And I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”
Well might he cry: this TV show, and the film that preceded it, is the ultimate passion project, both for Barantini and the cast and crew he assembled to bring it to life. First launched by Barantini as a short in 2019, Boiling Point told the story of a frenetic night in a high-end London restaurant. Even more impressively, it was also shot in a single take, following the chefs, waiting staff and customers around the restaurant like a silent voyeur.
With actor Stephen Graham as his champion (indeed, it was Graham who got Barantini his agent, after reading the original script and falling in love), Barantini went onto develop the short into a feature-length film, which released in 2021 to general acclaim, netting him four BAFTA nominations. Now, it’s finally back – albeit as a four-part BBC TV series.
The buzz around this show is evident: the room set aside for press interviews is bursting at the seams with the actors’ enthusiasm. Many of them are from the original cast, all of whom jumped at the opportunity to come back on board for a second go.
That includes Graham as the beleaguered Andy Jones – who finished the film (spoiler) having a spectacular heart attack on the floor of the kitchen he ran. “When [Phil Barantini] said in the car, ‘We’ve been asked to do it again,’ I was like, ‘What?’” Graham told a cheering audience at an advance screening. “And I said, ‘Well, I think it sounds great. But I’m dead!’”
Or is he? Quite how Andy is back would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say, he’s no longer running a restaurant – instead, the focus of the series has shifted to his erstwhile second in command, Carly (Vinette Robinson).
“I wanted to give Carly the opportunity to open her own restaurant, and not follow in Andy’s footsteps in terms of how he runs his kitchen,” Barantini explains. “And, you know, show it from that female perspective, in terms of a female of colour being a head chef in that industry. She’s had to go up the ranks a lot harder than a white man.”
She’s certainly up against it: over the course of the first episode, Carly has to deal with fractious staff members – including second-in-command Freeman, played by the returning Ray Panthaki, a brand new commie chef with zero experience (newcomer Stephen Odubola) and trouble with potential investors. And unlike the film, the show also leaves the kitchen (and the dreaded one-shot take) to dive into the characters’ personal lives – whether that’s Carly’s fractious relationship with her mother, or fellow chef Johnny’s growing family.
Even more impressively, the show’s script is almost completely improvised by the actors, with the blessing of writer James Cummings. This time, there’s a tad more scripted dialogue than there was in the film – something he puts down to having more “moving parts” to juggle – but the actors are still encouraged to freestyle.
“The big joy for me of the improvisation is that you guys bring to it your own humour style, your own way of talking,” he tells the cast. “You’ve also got an idea about the history of that character, and how you’re going to respond to things, and so when it comes to making the show feel authentic, and like you’re watching a real kitchen, full of real people, then that’s incredibly rewarding.”
That goes for what the actors do on-set, too. Though they’re given vague instructions (as well as some training), the film required the show’s cast to improvise their cooking and performances around the one-shot take.
“It was kind of a mad endeavour,” Vinette Robinson, who plays Carly, says wistfully. Her co-star, Panthaki, jumps in: “You keep going. I think the rule was, unless someone was in danger [you didn’t stop] – if you cut your finger, you’re carrying on!”
“There was a rogue bin, wasn’t there, at one point?” Robinson adds. “At one point, was it Stephen Graham who had to pull it out of the way? Our DOP, Matt Lewis, was coming back with the camera and the bin was right in his way, and someone moved it just in time.”
Luckily, in the TV show, things ran a bit more smoothly – plus, the cast were able to draw on the expertise of on-set chef Ellis Barrie (best known for running award-winning restaurant The Marram Grass) to add a bit of haute-cuisine realism to their performances. “He was invaluable,” Robinson says. “Because it’s a fast-moving process, the script is fluid. You need someone to grab and be like, how does this work? And he choreographed us all in the kitchen and gave us all our tasks.”
He also taught the cast some basic knife skills – as Robinson says, “I went home and chopped a lot of mushrooms”.
Of course, any kitchen-related dramas these days inevitably draw comparisons to Disney+ darling The Bear, the second season of which aired earlier this year. But Barantini is adamant that they’re not the same thing.
“Me and James [Cummings], we found out that there was a show… then the trailer came out. And in the back of my mind, I was going, ‘I hope it’s really bad.’” Unfortunately, as he says, “it was really good, and me and James were like, ‘Shit.’”
The pair watched the first season while they were prepping to film, but as Barantini says, there was no pressure. “We knew our story,” he says – and it’s distinctly different. “There's so much to explore. Because it's an ever-evolving, changing thing. You know, people come and go and menus change. So I’m always stoked to change things around.”
Plus, The Bear’s success has illustrated one thing: there’s a bottomless appetite for chef dramas on our screens. “I feel like the popularity of it just shows how much it resonates with people. I think hopefully, it will help Boiling Point, and hopefully, both of them will sort of help each other. And I don’t know,” his eyes twinkle, “I would like to do a hybrid crossover episode.” A tempting treat indeed.
Episode one of Boiling Point will air on BBC One and iPlayer from Sunday October 1