Originally published Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Movie review

A 'Toast' to pies, songs, Helena Bonham Carter

A movie review of "Toast," based on a childhood memoir by food writer Nigel Slater. It's the story of a boy's quest for culinary mastery and personal freedom despite challenges at home.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Toast,' with Helena Bonham Carter, Ken Stott, Freddie Highmore, Oscar Kennedy, Victoria Hamilton. Directed by S.J. Clarkson, from a screenplay by Lee Hall, based on a memoir by Nigel Slater. 96 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. Varsity.

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"Toast" has three things deserving of adoration: spectacular lemon-meringue pies, the songs of Dusty Springfield and Helena Bonham Carter.

This alternately sunny and gloomy British dramedy makes a sumptuous feast of all three. Based on a memoir by British food writer, journalist and television host Nigel Slater, "Toast" is the 1960s story of Slater's years as an only child in a cuisine-challenged family. Actually, two kinds of cuisine challenges in two kinds of families.

The film's first half follows 9-year-old Nigel (Oscar Kennedy), who tries to nudge his parents toward more adventurous dinners than overboiled canned goods.

With the death of his mum (Victoria Hamilton), Nigel is at the mercy of an intemperate father (Ken Stott), who is soon distracted by the attention of a brassy, married housekeeper, Mrs. Potter (Carter). The latter has her eye on the widower and uses every weapon in her arsenal to claim him, from making the act of vacuuming a carpet sexually suggestive (and funny) to applying impressive skills in the kitchen.

Not surprisingly, Nigel and his eventual stepmother resent one another. Screenwriter Lee Hall and director S.J. Clarkson are careful not to suggest either character is blameless for their cold war, largely fought over culinary secrets.

Carter is wonderful in her sympathetic villainy and vulgarity. Freddie Highmore ("The Spiderwick Chronicles") is a delight as the adolescent Nigel, whose unhappiness becomes a catalyst for carving out life on his own terms.

Those Dusty Springfield tunes add both period atmosphere and a robust passion for the freedom to be oneself, a freedom hard won in this delicious tale.

Tom Keogh:

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