Set in a British restaurant, one-take feature film Boiling Point caused a sensation on its release in 2021. As a small-screen sequel heads to the BBC, DQ speaks to star Stephen Graham and fellow executive producers Bart Ruspoli and Hester Ruoff about what’s in store.
From the This is England franchise and Boardwalk Empire to The Virtues, Help and Save Me, Stephen Graham is no stranger to starring in hit films and series.
Yet it is the success of Boiling Point, the project that began life as a short film, that he admits he never expected. Set during a busy evening service at a top London restaurant, the short was produced in 2019 and turned into a full-length feature two years later.
Notably, both the short and the feature were shot in one take, amplifying the tension and pressure felt by both the kitchen and the front-of-house staff as multiple professional and personal crises threaten to cause chaos.
A sequel to the feature film, also called Boiling Point, is now coming to the BBC, with Graham reprising his role as head chef Andy Jones and director Philip Barantini returning behind the camera.
“The simple truth of the matter is I was involved in the short to help get Phil an agent,” Graham tells DQ during production on the series. “That was the primary purpose behind it, that was our objective overall. Nothing else. Then it just seems to have blossomed and grown from there. The response to the film, it blew my mind. I was never expecting that kind of response.”
In the five-part series, the focus of the story shifts beyond just the restaurant. Picking up eight months on from where the film left off, it finds former sous chef Carly (Vinette Robinson, Six Four) as head chef of her own restaurant, with many of Andy’s original team alongside her. As the pressure mounts to keep the restaurant full, Carly begins to feel the magnitude of responsibility that comes with running her own place.
Those familiar with the film will know that it ended with Andy’s future in doubt as he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. It’s no surprise, then, that Graham and the production team had to “bash our heads together” to come up with a solid character arc for Andy in the series – something that could dovetail with the main story and ultimately bring Andy and Carly back together.
“It had to be a really good, solid storyline to contain what Andy was going through and what his life experience was. If he’s not working in this particular restaurant, why are we going to follow him? Why are we interested in what’s happening with him? That was a tricky situation,” Graham says. “We really had to come up with something solid and substantial for an audience to follow his journey.”
Produced by Ascendant Fox, Matriarch Productions – the company Graham runs with his actor wife Hannah Walters – and Made Up Productions, the series reunites Barantini with his co-writer James Cummings. Hester Ruoff and Bart Ruspoli return as executive producers alongside Walters and Graham.
“What we’ve managed to achieve is what we set out to achieve,” Ruspoli says of bringing Boiling Point to television. “We’ve taken the themes that were prevalent in the film and the intensity of the film and dropped them into a TV series format. We’ve also got a beautiful and powerful arc for Stephen’s character, and it serves the series story, which is what we were struggling with before. How do we fit this in? Now we’ve managed to find this story and it works brilliantly.”
But when it came to looking at the storyline, Andy wasn’t the only character the production team had to consider. Also returning alongside Graham and Robinson are Walters (Emily), Ray Panthaki (Freeman), Gary Lamont (Dean), Áine Rose Daly (Robyn), Taz Skylar (Billy), Daniel Larkai (Jake), Stephen McMillan (Jamie), Hannah Traylen (Holly) and Izuka Hoyle (Camille).
New cast members include Stephen Odubola (Johnny), Shaun Fagan (Bolton), Joel MacCormack (Liam) and Ahmed Malek (Musa). Cathy Tyson will play Carly’s mum Vivian, while newcomer Missy Haysom makes their television debut as Kit.
“We’re in a unique position in that we didn’t start with a blank canvas,” Graham says. “It wasn’t like, ‘We have to create a series. What are we going to do? What can we make this series about? Has anybody got any ideas?’ It wasn’t that. We had this canvas already with these beautiful colours on it, which were the characters that had already been created. So then it was up to us to find themes to carry these characters through our world.
“It’s very similar to the film, yet it’s also very different because the film was 80 minutes within the lifespan of all of these people – fleeting moments in time. We got to follow this one man on his journey and got to know so much about all these other people, but it also left us intrigued. This now gave us a real opportunity to shine a light on other people.”
One particularly poignant moment from the film is when Emily discovers Jamie is self-harming, leading to an incredibly tender exchange between them. Graham says that scene is one example of how the audience will now be able to dive into the story beyond the restaurant setting. “While the restaurant is our microcosm, the macrocosm is the outside world, so we get to explore what’s going on in these characters’ lives as well,” he adds.
Much like the film itself, the journey behind the Boiling Point juggernaut has hardly paused for breath. After the short film was released, the first series scripts were commissioned in December 2021, by which time the feature film had become a festival favourite ahead of its general release in January 2022. Then in July last year, the series was given the official green light and the 13-week shoot started in Manchester in January. It is due to air on BBC One and iPlayer later this year.
“Hestor and I know we better not get used to that,” Ruspoli says of the fast-track commissioning process. “That’s not how it usually happens at all. But it was all about the characters. That’s what people were interested in. They wanted to know what these characters lives were beyond [the film] and what happens. While we had an initial idea that this could work as a TV series, it went through many different iterations. ‘Do we follow a completely different restaurant and call it Boiling Point?’ and all sorts of other ideas. Then when we were told that’s what the BBC wanted, we knew we were going to have to continue the story.”
As much as the one-take format of the film was a success, the idea of shooting a series in that way was quickly dismissed, which then led to conversations about how best to replicate the dramatic tension in the kitchen with a more traditional setup.
“The most important thing was to get that frenetic energy, to get the pace of the kitchen. We decided against the one-shot thing, yet within each episode there are a lot of long takes, so you still feel that. You still feel the energy and flow from the film,” Ruoff says. “There are amazing moments of lightness, banter and jokes, so you’ve got all of that side of it as well.”
Graham continues: “Everybody who’s been in a work environment, be it an office, a building site or a school, everybody understands that concept of what it’s like to be involved in a work environment and what masks you wear for work. The tension might not necessarily come from the restaurant in each episode but it might be the storyline we’re pursuing outside of the kitchen.
“We’ve managed to maintain that energy and vibrancy I felt the film captured. But we’ve also managed to contain that in each episode in certain ways. Otherwise it would be just too much. You don’t want to explode, so it has to have moments of breathing and elements of calmness within it.”
Graham’s other upcoming television roles include Disney+ boxing period drama A Thousand Blows and Netflix crime drama Bodies, while he is also developing new projects through Matriarch Productions. Having been on the journey with Boiling Point since the very beginning, he says its trajectory from short film to feature and now a series is “incomprehensible.”
“It’s like, ‘Woah, hang on a minute. How’s this happened?’ We only turned round and said ‘action’ when we were in this little college in Manchester 10 minutes ago, when we did the short, and now here we are,” he says. “But for me as an actor, the experience on the film was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.
“And within the context of what I’ve been shooting on this, there’s one scene in particular we’ve already shot that I am the proudest of out of anything I’ve ever been part of. My heart and soul was in that scene. It’s such an honour and a privilege to be able to be in this position but also to be able to tell these stories, and specifically for this character because this character resonates with me so much.
“I thank everyone for that opportunity to be able to formulate that scene and leave a piece of my soul on celluloid, which may sound pretentious but I don’t really care. For me, there’s one scene in particular and I’m so proud of it and this piece. If it gets through to one or two people then my objective is complete.”
What that scene entails, Graham won’t say, except to mention it is a moment he shared with Walters in character as Andy and Emily. “The truth, reality and the authenticity of that for me was beyond anything else.”
Graham is also extremely supportive of his co-stars, describing one moment when the crew were in tears during another scene featuring Emily.
“Hannah’s performance has been sublime, and Vinette and everybody is bringing their A-game to it,” he says. “We’ve also found beautiful new talent we’ve been able to give an opportunity to, because that’s the ethos of all of our companies. So we’re finding these little diamonds and giving everybody that chance and that opportunity to play. Hopefully [the series] shines a little ray of sunlight on each and every one of our characters at some point.”
“It’s such an ensemble effort, the whole thing,” Ruoff agrees. “You feel that the moment you walk on set – the cast, the crew and everyone involved. Some of the actors have never done anything; maybe it’s their first TV job or they’ve done just one line in something, and suddenly they’re being championed. Without a hierarchy of ‘you’ve done this and I’ve done this,’ they’re in a safe environment where they can actually grow and flourish in their talent, and that’s just incredible. To be able to give that opportunity to someone is phenomenal.”
Meanwhile, the Boiling Point film wasn’t just a hit in the UK. After its release, it landed more than 30 award nominations in multiple categories around the world. BBC Studios will be selling the series internationally.
“The themes of Boiling Point are universal,” Ruoff notes. “We’re taking those themes from the film and putting them in a TV show. It has the same DNA and the same intensity, and the same themes that resonated through the film throughout the world are going to be in the TV series. It will transcend any demographic and any geographic boundary, just like the film did.”