Boiling Point is the second feature film from actor-turned-director Philip Barantini, whose creative trajectory has taken him from on-screen roles in HBO’s Band of Brothers, The Bill, Humans and Chernobyl to directing fellow performer Stephen Graham in one of the year’s best films.
On the busiest night of the year at one of the hottest restaurants in London, charismatic, commanding head chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) balances along a knife’s edge as multiple personal and professional crises threaten to destroy everything he’s worked for. A surprise visit from a health and safety inspector sets the staff on edge as the overbooked hotspot begins to fill with guests. Jones alternately berates and cajoles his diverse staff, trying his best to diffuse tensions between management and his crew, while catering to the ridiculous demands of customers.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Aside from its gripping kitchen-sink narrative and breath-taking performances from a cast including Graham and Vinette Robinson, what’s truly effective about Boiling Point is Barantini having both the ambition to shoot the film in the one-shot format and the restraint to wield it for emotional impact rather than pure cinematographic novelty.
“We made a short film back in 2018 which was one take, twenty minutes, as a sort of proof-of-concept”, Barantini tells us. “When we decided to write the feature, the first thing we said was, look, we want to do this in one take. Is it possible, technically and logistically?”.
The logistics of filmmaking can be enough of a headache under more traditional circumstances, but the one-shot approach posed unique challenges. What equipment could to be used to facilitate the tight choreography of the camera’s movement? How could the crew ensure the single take wasn’t cut short by digital storage limitations? “We found a camera that was able to not only distribute the weight of the cinematographer, but able to swap out SD cards live. There’s a lot of cameras out there that we couldn’t use, because of the memory and the time limits on a memory card”, says Barantini.
Having already experimented with the 2018 short – which also starred Stephen Graham – provided Barantini and his crew with the know-how and confidence to flesh out Boiling Point to its full narrative potential. But the decision to shoot the film as a one-shot wasn’t just a flex from a director looking to prove his technological prowess – it was key to the story being told.
“The last thing we wanted was for it to be a gimmick”, explains Barantini. “I’ve been an actor for twenty-five years as well as a director. I’ve also worked in restaurants as a chef for twelve years during that time when I needed to make some money, because I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be. When you’re in a busy service like that, it is one take. You don’t get a chance to stop and go backwards or leap forward in time. It’s hit the ground running and let’s go until the end of the service.”
Discussing the finer details of Boiling Point‘s shoot with Barantini make it clear that the team knew exactly what they were looking to create, and exactly what could go wrong in the process. All the technical skill in the world can be for naught if a director doesn’t trust their crew to do their jobs – but in the case of the film’s cinematographer, Matt Lewis, Barantini had no doubts.
“I was confident that we could do it, but the first person I have to make sure was totally on board with it and comfortable with doing it was Matt Lewis. He’s the one who’s going to be holding the camera for an hour and a half, or however long it was going to be – we had no idea how long it was going to be at that stage.”
Boiling Point omnisciently carries the audience through a hectic dinner service, as unruly customers and internal struggles within the kitchen staff threaten to push the struggling head chef too far. In order to maintain the focus on the characters and their journey first and foremost, Barantini and Lewis established ground rules for how the action would be followed on location.
The first: the camera should never leave a person. “It should always be motivated by somebody. It’s never allowed to just go off and float up on its own,” says Barantini. “And the second rule was, we never want to repeat a move. So if we go into the kitchen and out of it twice, we have to find something new on the second pass”.
All of this serves to facilitate the heart and soul of Boiling Point: its wonderfully talent cast of characters, who aren’t simply background dressing for Graham’s head chef. They each have their own complex lives outside of the restaurant; lives that can’t be dropped the second they clock into the job. But anybody who’s worked in hospitality can attest to how unforgiving and relentless such an environment can be – and how vital the support of colleagues can be to surviving every shift.
In order to put together his ideal cast, Barantini sought the input of Stephen Graham himself. “In reality, the head chef would have employed all his staff in the kitchen, and would have hand-picked them all personally”, he explains. “It’s very important that you have a say in who’s the team in the kitchen”, the director told Graham.
It’s an unorthodox approach to casting, but it’s hard to argue with the results; especially in the case of Vinette Robinson, who gives a phenomenal performance as sous-chef Carly. Carly’s not only a talented chef, but we also get the impression that she’s seen Andy at his highs and many lows. As the evening’s events begin to weigh upon Andy like never before, Vinette beautifully captures the painful concern of a long-term friend who wants to help but fears being pulled to rock-bottom with them.
“When Stephen Graham suggest an actor or actress, you don’t really need to question it. His taste is impeccable. He’s not going to pick somebody who is a bad actor or who’s not right for the role. It was the case especially with Vinette, who Stephen had just worked with on a three-part A Christmas Carol television series. He said, “first person you’ve got to meet is Vinette. She’s phenomenal”.
A single-location, one-shot film lives and dies by whether its story and characters are compelling enough to justify the format. With Boiling Point, Barantini has crafted a grounded yet edge-of-your-seat cinematic glimpse into the inner lives behind the dining experiences many of us may take for granted.
BOILING POINT IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DEMAND AND DIGITAL.