I've noted many times on these pages that the entire British film
industry now seems to have only two templates:
(1) Gritty urban gangster dramas and dramedies with a touch of
(2) Offbeat and quirky, but ultimately warm comedies about
eccentric provincials engaged in a struggle to be accepted for their
participation in unusual or unexpected activities.
The Baker, apparently troubled by ambivalence, is both!
A professional assassin runs into some problems with "the
corporation," and is advised by his mentor to lie low until further
instructions. He is provided with an address in the Welsh countryside
where he is to blend in with the locals and attract no attention. For
reasons never clearly established, the mob's Welsh hideout is a
charming little high street bakery shop which has fallen into
disrepair. The hitman decides to make lemon out of this lemonade, or
rather to make bread out of this yeast, and goes about disguising
himself as the town's long-awaited baker, Milo Shakespeare. There are
a couple of reasons why his disguise fails: (1) he has no idea how to
created edible baked goods; (2) a local lad sees him burying his
weapons and digs them up. It is not long before almost every single
person in the village knows that their baker is really a professional
killer, but he does not know that they know. That's the rather
contrived comic premise. The way it plays out is that the people in
town think they are walking into the bakery and using a secret code to
have their neighbors killed over petty spats, while our Mr.
Shakespeare thinks that they are simply ordering custom-baked sweets.
Meanwhile, the lad who found the cache of weapons really hopes to
find a route out of his dead-end town, and hires on to be the baker's
assistant, a job which he conceives to consist of rubbing out fellow
villagers, but which really consists of fixing up the dilapidated shop
and learning add decorative frosting to birthday cakes. There's also a
love interest, a dedicated local veterinarian who seems to be the only
one in town unaware of the baker's real profession. Finally, there's a
dramatic conflict in the form of a rival hitman who has been assigned
by the corporation to remove the baker from their rolls, so to speak.
I mentioned at the beginning of these comments that it's both an
urban gangster film and a comedy about eccentric provincials, but
that's only true in principal. In fact, it's really just the latter,
and of that genre a second-tier representative. Although it all plays
out predictably, there are a few laughs along the way. Surprisingly,
the film's two best scenes are musical:
The first is a funeral for the fishmonger's foul termagant of a
wife. (Her death was necessary to make the plot work. The modest
proprietor of Cod Almighty wanted his wife killed and she died after
her husband made a bakery order, thus leading the townspeople to think
that the baker offed her in response to an order for custom sweets.)
The villagers get together at the wake to perform a robust rendition
of her favorite song ... that traditional funeral dirge, "Volare."
The other is a sex scene between the baker and the veterinarian,
which is played out for energetic laughs in the manner of the famous
sex scene between Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson in The Tall Guy. The
lovers smear one another with bakery accoutrements like jam, cream and
flour, while they make furious love to the beat of a famous calypso
song, Shake Sonora.
The British critics raked this film over the coals. The Guardian
scored it their minimum 1/5 and the BBC was not much more generous
with a 2/5 score and a dismissive bakery-related Shalitism ("a hastily
cooked souffle"). While I grant that The Baker is not a genre
masterpiece, and that its comic ideas have been done better elsewhere,
I don't believe it should be rated that low. I think the IMDb score of
5.9 gives just about the right idea. While it is true that some of the
villagers are annoyingly idiosyncratic without any good comic purpose,
the star (Damian Lewis, the director's brother) has a sympathetic
screen presence and a solid sense of comic timing.