Christmas in a restaurant can be hell at the best of times, especially for staff,  easily being one of the busiest times of the year, add in a ferocious performance from Stephen Graham and a one shot journey across the restaurant and you have quite the explosive recipe for success.

Starting out life as a short film in 2019, perhaps an aperitif for the main course, Boiling Point played in the Thrill section at the London Film Festival and is anchored by Stephen Graham as Head Chef Andy struggling to stop both his professional and personal lives from imploding on one of the busiest nights of the year for the restaurant. In addition to Graham, we encounter the other members of the kitchen and floor staff gleaning tid-bits of information about their lives and how they interact with one another.

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The background noise of the restaurant adds a sense of atmosphere with constant noise throughout. This leads to an early interaction between Andy (a food hygiene inspector) being tenser than it might be otherwise. The sound of cutlery clanging makes this intimate moment seem less private than it is and we are reminded on occasion how busy the venue is, Andy is scolded for swearing within earshot of customers – there is never a moment alone for many of the characters.

The one shot nature of the film will be one of its key selling points and unlike in 1917 and Birdman which employed the tactic, this supposedly was done without any cheats. The short film must have acted as a rehearsal run in many ways. The restaurant is a perfect setting for this tactic, of course employed by Martin Scorsese in the iconic scene from Goodfellas. We follow from kitchen to floor and back again, with constant interaction between characters. The transitions are seamless and focusing on other characters helps make Graham’s performance more impactful.

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While Stephen Graham is an absolute highlight, in what has been a stellar year with roles in the acclaimed BBC series Time and The North Water, he is ably supported by a talented cast boasting Graham’s wife Hannah Walters and Jason Flemyng. Flemyng is a fine foil for Graham as Restaurateur Alastair Skye. The relationship between the pair is obviously layered, but we understand that Alastair has some involvement in the restaurant and is in need of support from Andy, adding an extra dynamic to an already tense evening. Vinette Robinson is also on fine form as Carly, who has often had to take Andy’s flack and cover for him when he’s turned up late, piling the stress on her. While the rest of the cast are more fleeting roles, we do get a sense of in-built tensions between staff and how close certain individuals are to packing it in.

The sense of realism the film brings is one of its clear strengths, this genuinely feels like a real restaurant – from the difficult customers on Table 7 to the flirtatious waiters, we’ve all been in some of the situations depicted here and what the film lacks in characterisation, it makes up for in world building. In addition to the tension we are also treated to moments of restaurant banter between staff which help build the relationships between various staff members. Director Philip Barantini himself worked in the restaurant world and so it is only natural that he would understand the world to a large degree.

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Boiling Point is a marvel of a film, delivering on its clever premise and making the most of every moment of its 90 minute runtime, for such a short film this certainly does not feel rushed and its remarkable how much is able to seamlessly slot into the story. The performances and world building are flawless, ratcheting up the tension as it gently simmers in the background. The intimate setting of the restaurant helps the pressure build, as there is no escape from noise and nuisance. Stephen Graham delivers a tour-de force performance, showing multiple layers and threatening to overheat at any moment. This is an incredibly well thought out film that maximises its assets and delivers genuine thrills from an almost everyday evening in a restaurant at Christmas. At the centre of Boiling Point, it’s emotional core and realism help anchor it, and the performances shine across the board.

Rating: ½