Indulgence as Empowerment
by Tori Placentra
Set in the 1990s at a boys’ boarding school called Dryden Park in the countryside of England, A Feast at Midnight (1994) is a story about the nourishing and empowering abilities of indulging in desserts. The film portrays the empowering abilities of desserts through transformations of characters often introducing them in vulnerable situations, making their transformation at the end of the film that much more marked.
The beginning of the film portrays a financially struggling school, desperate to appease the wishes of the parents to maintain and recruit new students. Primarily through complaints exchanged between students and faculty it is revealed that the main way they do this is by eating “health foods” because “that’s what the mothers want” says the Headmaster. But Major Longfellow says he’s tired of eating “skinny little meals that leave you feeling empty all day.” This is also when some important first introductions are made: Magnus is first shown dejected and isolated from the other boys, Goof is shown playing the piano beautifully but he says he can’t play in front of other people, and Charlotte is shown helplessly and timidly trying to control a group of boys in the midst of a pillow fight, with the scene ending in her mockery.
The boys fantasize about indulging outside of the “good for us” food that the school provides, a notion, which completely discounts the possibility of food having more than one purpose. “Good for your body” does not necessarily translate to ‘good for the soul’, which the boys, and adults, in the film so crave. Eventually, Magnus, Goof, and Tava cannot stand it any longer, and they sneak into the kitchen to whip up some mouth-watering pancakes. After this experience, Magnus and boys, who don’t fit in playing cricket, affirm that they are a “team” in their own right and name themselves “The Scoffers.”
Each visit to the kitchen leaves the boys a little more emboldened than before – a little more able to stand up to the school bullies, including Major Longfellow. The film shifts from using suspenseful, close-up, tracking shots of feet, to focusing on the faces of the boys especially as they enjoy their sweets. For the closing scene, the boys make a Charlotte cake for Charlotte’s birthday. This after hours party is the ultimate disobedience in the school, but Charlotte and the boys have completely overcome their inhibitions. Charlotte climbs the trophy case with courage and the camera looks down on her father from her perspective instead of gazing up at him as the camera had done throughout the rest of the film. By giving her the Charlotte cake, the boys in a way gave Charlotte her sense of self. It was through engaging with this illicit indulgence in desserts that the characters in the film nourished their souls and became empowered.
A Feast at Midnight. Dir. Hardy, Justin. Kwai River Productions,1994.