Each Thanksgiving, we sit down with family and friends to acknowledge and celebrate the community of people that make our lives meaningful. Of course, the holiday meal offers so much more than just that. There’s overeating, bad jokes, petty arguments, and family secrets. There’s a veritable banquet of messy emotional side dishes. But at the end of every meal, there is the overwhelming gratitude of being able to go through it all together.
To celebrate this holiday of food, we are serving up five very different meals from great Focus films. From Victoria & Abdul to The Kids Are All Right, you are invited to take your place at the table to enjoy the comedy, drama, suspense, and great food of some of our favorite cinematic meals.
Victoria & Abdul: A Table Fit For a Queen
Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul chronicles the remarkable friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian clerk sent to London to present a special coin during the Golden Jubilee. To celebrate the event, a royal banquet is held at Windsor castle, an intimate affair seating several hundred of the Queen’s admirers. To get the meal right, the production team researched and recreated menus from Victoria’s period. Among the prodigious pomp of this extravagant imperial indulgence, Victoria first spots the man who would change her life. “Abdul does everything wrong,” notes Rex Reed. “But although his ignorance of protocol and etiquette disrupts the rules, his inadvertent irreverence awakens the aging monarch’s dormant sense of amusement.”
The Kids Are All Right: Adding one more to the family table
Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right revolves around two meals. The first one introduces Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) to Paul, the sperm donor dad (Mark Ruffalo) of their two kids, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska). The second one nearly blows the family apart when hard truths and dark secrets are revealed. In setting her film in Southern California, Cholodenko pays close attention to the way food impacts everyone’s lives. On one side is Paul’s organic restaurant and locavore aesthetic and on the other is Nic’s disdain for foodies: “If I hear one more person say how much they love heirloom tomatoes, I'm going to punch them right in the face." But as interested as the film is in what's on the table––especially when it's hot dogs, potato chips, and an excellent bottle of Petite Sirah––the story is ultimately more concerned with the people sitting around it.
Anna Karenina: Love and food
At the start of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, before the title heroine (Keira Knightley) leaves her husband (Jude Law) for her lover, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Anna’s brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) meets his good friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) for dinner at L’Angleterre. With waiters choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in Sarah Greenwood's gilded cage of a cafe, the entrees chosen by the two friends define the film's major themes. With Oblonsky ordering oysters and seafood in French and Levin opting for a bowl of cabbage soup, the two meals define, as the Scene of Eating points out, "the differing attitudes toward love and country held by the two men."
Pride & Prejudice: No small potatoes
In Pride & Prejudice, Joe Wright captures the precarious state of the Bennet family’s future in one comic dinner scene. When the slightly pompous Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander) comes to visit, everyone is hyperaware that this little man is set to inherit Elizabeth’s (Keira Knightley) and her family’s home when Mr. Bennet dies. At dinner, Collins' painfully awkward compliment about “boiled potatoes” speaks to the resentment, fear, and anger the family feels about their social standing. In this simple dinner exchange, Wright captures the way the smallest of small talk speaks volumes in Jane Austen’s world. And Hollander’s turn, especially in this scene, was noted by The New York Times as one of the “five performances to watch” that year.
Coraline: The meals look better on the other side
Based on Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel, Henry Selick’s stop-motion adventure Coraline follows the titled 11-year old (voiced by Dakota Fanning) as she discovers a portal into a world seemingly just like her own, only brighter and more inviting. There, her other mother (Teri Hatcher) and father (John Hodgman)––mirrors of her parents with buttons for eyes––create a fantastical world where everything is magic, including dinner. There, Coraline sits down to a meal like none other, where there really is a gravy train, chandeliers dispense mango milkshakes, and cakes decorate themselves. For Coraline, however, this dream is just a nightmare waiting to happen.
Eastern Promises: Dinner, Russian style
To tell the story of the London Russian mafia in Eastern Promises, screenwriter Steven Knight and director David Cronenberg did extensive research into the particulars of that world. In the film, Viggo Mortensen works as a driver and fixer for Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a local mafia head who hides his criminal enterprise by appearing as the charming owner of the Trans-Siberian Restaurant. To bring that world to life, production designer Carol Spier found inspiration at St. Petersburg’s famous Hermitage museum. “I saw the opulence and details of Catherine the Great's world,” notes Spier. “That became what Semyon was trying to put in his restaurant.” To make Semyon's restaurant real, the filmmakers hired an expert in Russian cuisine, chef Silvena Rowe, to recreate a lavish holiday meal with everything from beluga caviar-topped blinis to stuffed fish mousse.