This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
In the new TV sequel to the highly acclaimed Boiling Point (2021) feature film, the kitchen today is stuck between two worlds — the old and the new. The old world of hyper-masculinity, verbal abuse and at times physical violence, is at odds with the new world of self-awareness and a more empathetic attitude towards mental health. Those brought up in the Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White school of sweary rants either have to adapt or be left behind.
In the film adaption of Boiling Point, the narrative focuses on under-pressure chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham), head chef of restaurant Jones & Son. In the TV series, Graham's character takes a back seat and Carly (Vinette Robinson, previously the sous chef) takes centre stage as the new head chef and restauranteur. Andy, having survived his heart attack at the end of the previous film, is now housebound, reminiscing the glory days and feeling spiteful of his former team's success. His struggles with addiction provide an ongoing background narrative to the success and tribulations of Carly and his old team, who have now opened a new restaurant called Point North, which champions northern British cuisine.
Where the film was adaption was a quick short sharp shock into the restaurant business, the TV series takes us on a deeper dive into the runnings of a working kitchen. The financial hardship of owning a restaurant is shown clearly, with Carly constantly trying to juggle loan repayments, staff absence and a mother who requires care. It is a slower simmer to boiling point in the sequel but with all the visceral gritty stress of the film intact. At times it feels that the writers are trying to cram too many subjects into a short four-part series, covering alcohol addiction, self-harm, sexual abuse, sexism, and racism. It works in one sense to show the audience the multitude of issues that staff are faced with when working within the catering industry. However, the depth that is needed to really give credence to them is missed, as we only get a brief view of these topics. Although there are great performances by the rest of the cast, it does feel that an actor of Stephen Graham's quality should have been utilised more to elevate the series further.
In parts of the series, there are truly shocking scenes that pull at the heartstrings of the viewer, one scene in particular involving mother Emily (Hannah Walters) and son, Jamie (Stephen McMillian). It's rather hard to watch to absorb the emotions involved — it doesn't hold back the punches, showing a working kitchen with all the realities that come with high-stress environments. It highlights well the various complicated reasons why people act in careless ways, allowing the viewer to feel sympathy for all involved, not just those subject to the bad behaviour. An example of this early on is when sous chef, Freeman (Ray Panthaki), loses his temper and throws a bottle across the kitchen, the staff are in uproar at the incident, and he is shouted at from all sides. However, as an audience, we see the racist abuse that led up to this point. Philip Barantini not only shines a light on bad behaviour but also what causes it, which is effectively done well in the series.
Another shrewd aspect of the making of the TV series is the promotion of working class and regional actors through Stephen Graham and Hannah Walters' production company, Matriarchal Productions. As Stephen Graham mentioned in an interview with Graham Norton, the industry is currently lacking in promoting these groups and one of the ideas behind his production company was to try and reverse this decline. It gives the work a more realistic viewpoint of the culinary world, with a lot of chefs coming from working-class origins.
Boiling Point is a breath of fresh air, showcasing a hard-hitting, gritty, realistic character-driven series that is rarely seen in the modern day. Although at times it could do with more airtime for Stephen Graham to really elevate the series to something more, it does enough to be an enjoyable, at times stressful, watch that is well worth seeing this autumn.
Boiling Point is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.