The premise? Miranda Hart stars as a TV producer in charge of the first annual Best of British Chefs Competition (BBCC). The contestants include the most popular TV chefs in the UK, who must produce a series of dishes to present to a panel of infamous food judges. The event takes place on a very private island in the Lake District, accessible only by boat, where security guards patrol the grounds to prevent tabloid journalists and others from scooping the show.
The first challenge for the chefs is the baking competition, held in the grand ballroom of Dunsby Hall, a drafty old 40-room stone relic. Host Lord Dunsby, one of the judges and himself an amateur chef, welcomes the competitors to “bake their buns off.” As the clock begins to tick off the hours, the chefs take to their kitchen areas to examine their ingredients. They are locked in the ballroom by the security team hired to oversee the competition and prevent cheating.
Within the first hour, everything that could go wrong does. Rowena Fortescue (Ms. Hart) handles crisis after crisis, as the chefs react to a series of unscripted kitchen disasters. As the on-camera meltdowns and temper tantrums of the competing chefs begin to overshadow the events, Rowena worries that something unsavory is going on. Is someone deliberately sabotaging the competition in order to win?
During the second hour of the competition, as the chefs begin to assemble their cakes, Rowena finds herself facing a very perturbed Elizabeth Savage (Ms. Routledge), host of Just Desserts. Spitting mad, Elizabeth implores Rowena to get to the bottom of some very nasty culinary tricks. In the middle of their conversation, the power goes down in the grand ballroom, leaving all the chefs and their assistants in the dark. When the lights finally come back on, Nick Falstaff, one of the judges, is found with his head in a raspberry cream trifle, a victim of a vicious suffocation. Why would someone want to murder Nick?
It’s not long before the police arrive and the questioning reveals that the only two people in the grand ballroom with solid alibis are Rowena and Elizabeth. That’s when the fun really begins. Lord Dunsby insists the cook-off continues, even as the police probe for a motive. A very distracted Elizabeth, seeing the competition as a chance to regain her former position as the foremost British expert on desserts, insists that she and Rowena delve into the mystery, in order to find the killer before the end of the championship, so she concentrate on her baking. Here’s a look at the cast of the film:
The judges --
Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) plays Lord Dunsby, the slightly loopy owner of Dunsby Hall, who made a fortune as a rock star in the Wild Carnivores before he inherited the family manse and settled down as a gentleman farmer.
Graham Norton (The Graham Norton Show) plays Nick Falstaff, the host of a competitive TV cooking show called I Don’t Think So! He’s famous for providing unusual ingredients (mutton, marshmallows, ginger, beer, and potatoes are the chosen ingredients for a hearty soup) for each competitor to use in a meal; the chef who manages to make the least offensive/most edible meal wins; everyone else is told: “I don’t think so!”
Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) plays Cedric Witherington, the crusty food critic with a secret phobia who serves as a judge. Known for his withering restaurant reviews on Edible or Not?, his on-air persona has led to several public confrontations with angry chefs, including an attempted poisoning by Hendrick Symington, owner of the now defunct Hotel Du Maurier. Was he the intended murder victim?
The chefs and their assistants --
Patricia Hodge (Miranda) plays Lady Cornelia Rathbone, AKA the High Tea Lady. The pretentiously prim and proper high society maven is known for lecturing her audience on proper social graces in a modern world (“A lady must never forget to sip, not slurp, her tea.”) Off-camera, Lady Corny constantly tries to pursue her much younger, elusive assistant, Paul Smythe, relentlessly. Her amorous innuendoes with whipped cream, caramel sauce, and melted chocolate are legendary as she corners him by the Aga in between takes.
Laurence Fox (the all-too serious Hathaway on Lewis/Inspector Lewis) plays Paul Smythe, the sly rogue who not only takes advantage of Lady Cornelia’s passions by leading her on, but works hard to undermine her. His dream of having his own cooking show drives him to bad behavior that escalates. He sees sabotaging Lady Corny on the air as his ticket to success. As the cameras rolled during her recent live Wimbledon special, she squirmed through one disaster after another, trying to maintain her sense of style and decorum, but nearly lost it when the clotted cream for her scones was replaced with crème fraîche.
Dawn French (The Vicar of Dibley) and Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) play a modern (and thin) version of the Two Fat Ladies, called Two Fab Ladies. On the show, Stella Woods (French) and Posey Williams (Saunders) are former caterers for Tears for Fears, the Human League, Duran Duran, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Genesis. Now they travel around the countryside to feed and interview a variety of celebrities (last season, they hosted Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Dame Judi Dench, and Adele.) Rather than using a motorcycle and sidecar as the two Jennifers did, they have a food truck they’ve named “The Beast” and they swing by to pick up their guests for a mystery trip to a surprise location and an “absolutely fabulous” meal. Fawning over their celebrity guests is their specialty, as they try to ferret out gossip about the rich and famous, and they’ve been known to seduce guests with their exotic cocktails and liquor-laced desserts in pursuit of that goal.
Ayesha Dharker (Tara Mandal in Coronation Street) plays Amala Patel, host of Is It Hot in Here or Is It Just Me? The sexy Indian chef is known for wearing vibrantly colored saris and cooking with spices that bring the guests on her cooking show to tears. Once sous chef at the award-winning Tinley Teahouse, she started cooking Indian food in order to get a foot in the door as a professional TV chef. What the public doesn’t know is that Amala is a third-generation Brit who prefers fish and chips to Masala fish curry.
Danny Bhoy (Scottish-Indian comedian) plays her Scottish-born husband/business manager, Paul Gill, who’s never been to India, hates curry, and calls himself Pahal Gill from Jaipur, in order to boost Amala’s ratings and build a following for the small craft beer brewery he founded to capitalize on his wife’s fame, Pahal’s India Pale Ale.
Janine Duvitski (Jane in Waiting for God) plays Rosalie March, the earnest chef of Just a Quid, featuring inexpensive meals for a family of four; she is helped by her doting husband, Walter, the real penny pincher of the family, who shops for the ingredients at some rather dubious discount shops and is infamous behind the scenes for making questionable deals in order to save money.
Daniel Hill (Harvey Baines in Waiting for God) plays Walter March; he’s constantly pushing his wife’s career forward by cheating on the quid criteria for the meals and stealing ingredients from the chefs on the other sets; he’s mastered the art of pilfering beef tenderloin, prawns, and leg of lamb at Marley Studios.
Stephanie Cole (Diana in Waiting for God, Aunt Joan in Doc Martin) plays Bindy McClain, of In the Kitchen with Bindy, a country comfort foods show prepared on a set modeled after Bindy’s Swaledale Farm B&B. Chaos normally ensues, thanks to a pygmy goat named Igor helping himself to whatever catches his fancy on the kitchen set, a cat who likes to nap on top of the counter, and a sheepdog who goes bonkers every time the kitchen timer buzzes. Specializing in farm-to-table cooking, she prides herself on her countless oatmeal recipes, organic produce, and the fresh eggs she collects as the chickens lay them (“Still warm...you can’t get fresher than that now, can you?”)
Emma Chambers (Alice Tinker in The Vicar of Dibley) plays Bonita Grayson, Bindy’s part-time assistant and cheese maker on the Swaledale farm. Emma’s personal and professional life recently took a turn for the worst after her relationship with farm manager Ian McClain, who also happens to be Bindy’s husband, was exposed. Bindy caught the pair during an amorous marathon in the barn after Bonita deserted her kitchen post and the unattended haggis burned. Bindy insists the show must go on, but that’s because she wants to exact her revenge on her disloyal assistant and her philandering husband.
Roger Griffiths (who actually trained as a professional chef and played Everton Stonehead on Chef!) is Lynden Sweeting, the naturally charming star of The Singing Conch King, famous for his fritters, his soulful ballads, and his way with the ladies. His Bahamas cooking show is filmed in and around Nassau, with plenty of adoring female fans on hand to fuss over him.
Sophie Okonedo (Maggie Gardner in The Escape Artist, Alison Cheney, Liz Ten in Dr. Who) plays Lynden’s assistant and (unbeknownst to his fans) wife, a secret she reluctantly keeps in order to help his career take off. Jealous and insecure, she’s constantly chasing away overly friendly women who throw themselves at Lynden, but hides her bad behavior from her unsuspecting husband. She’s not averse to thwarting culinary groupies by serving them Lynden’s food that she’s doctored with her own “magic” concoctions, trying to deter their amorous activities.
Sally Phillips (the snooty friend on Miranda), plays Nan Flanders, the painfully shy Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who is brilliant in the kitchen, but can’t perform on camera. She hired Suzette Dumont to pretend to do the cooking on air for Delicious!, using her recipes. Poor, beleaguered Nan has a crush on TV executive Rupert Dawson, who doesn’t seem to know she exists because he’s so besotted with Suzette.
Sarah Hadland (Miranda) plays Suzette Dumont, a failed actress who’s been faking her career as a chef for Nan Flanders. These days Suzette has gotten so carried away with the role, she often comes close to exposing her lack of culinary expertise with ridiculous, unscripted comments. Hoping to bag the handsome “catch of the day” (Rupert Dawson), she goes to great lengths to dupe and distract the TV executive whenever he shows up on the set, despite knowing how much Nan loves him.
The man behind the competition --
Tom Ellis (Gary on Miranda) plays Rupert Dawson, a charming, but ruthless Marley Studios TV executive. This BBCC competition was his idea. He’s constantly after his TV chefs to improve their ratings, threatening to cancel their shows if they don’t hit the top slots weekly. Everyone knows he’s enamored of chef Suzette Dumont’s baking and has a habit of showing up on the set when he’s hungry, helping himself to the food just before the cameras roll. He doesn’t have a clue that it’s really Nan Flanders who’s the culinary master. Would he still be interested in the diminutive diva if he knew she can’t even boil an egg, let alone make a decent bread pudding?
* Okay, I admit I made this whole thing up. Sure, it’s a shameless publicity stunt to help convince you that my newest cozy mystery, Miz Scarlet and the Bewildered Bridegroom, is worthy of your attention. But seriously, wouldn’t this be a dream cast of actors in a film that would definitely tickle the funny bone? Maybe we should start a campaign to get this film made. How could it not be a winner?
FYI, Miz Scarlet and the Bewildered Bridegroom will be available as an eBook and a paperback. Heck, it’s even going to be available in large print, for visually impaired readers. So, if you’ve got a good sense of humor and you enjoy all these wonderful British comedies, you might actually enjoy my writing style. Why not give it a try?