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Our new food & design research collection. Here we will feature articles about design thinking and processes, food (of course), but more specifically food culture, cook book reviews, food and design trends and much more...

At the Table: cinematic dining & glorious banquets

Our intern Eleanor has been researching food in film and its meaning. Food is often not seen as the main point of a movie of course, but it definitely has its importance. As you'll see, food brings people together. All the scenes below are gatherings around a table and food. From large to small, simple to luxurious, you can explore through these movies how food was seen throughout time. And next time you watch a movie, try to examine how food is portrayed!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

One of the most iconic scenes in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would be the welcoming banquet hosted in the Great Hall. The Welcome Feast welcomed new students into their assigned houses. We see the Great Hall lined with four long wooden tables and benches for each house with one table set at a perpendicular at the top for the staff of Hogwarts. Tables set with golden, shiny Goblets and cutlery ready for the feast and the air filled with floating candles, setting the scene for the magical feast. With Dumbledore’s instructions, serving plates magically appeared down the centre of the tables. Filled with roast chicken, a crown of lamb, an array of roasted vegetables, chicken drumsticks, corn on the cob, sausages, roast beef, boiled and roasted potatoes. For the audience, it is a feast for the eyes. Whilst digging in viewers see Harry Potter and other students introduce themselves. This means that the welcome banquet holds a great purpose for socialising whilst eating great food.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

In this scene, Albert Spica, a cutting gangster, owner of Le Hollandais restaurant is sat at a visually stunning table with his gang. The table is set to the standards of any fine dining restaurant. A white tablecloth over the table allows what sits above it to stand out from the rich red scenery around it. The intense usage of the colour red within the dining room symbolises love, danger, lust, disgust and passion. The tableware includes Goblets, silver plates, cutlery laid out and extravagant, giant candles at each end. In the centre of the table, the viewers see what looks like a range of small birds roasted on a big serving platter. Setting the scene for a feast full of gluttony and power that will be destroyed when finished. Behind Spica we see the famous painting of Frans Hals “A Banquet of the Officers of the St George Civic Guard Company”, creating a contrast with similarities to those who dine amongst it.

Marie Antoinette

Set in a highly extravagant room we see Marie Antoinette alongside her husband sat at a long horizontal table full of elaborate dishes. Unlike other banquets, the table setting seems to be sparse, concentrating on the most important visual on the table: the food. The eye-catching dishes have an architectural appearance; pyramid-like in shape and heavily sculptured. Tall pyramid dishes such as langoustines, pastry dragons and scallops line centre of the table, sitting on a mirrored surface to create depth and a sense of wealth to the dishes. The big centrepiece on the table is elaborate and the tall pastry dragons facing each other creates a sense of drama. It also creates tension within the room, making it seem Marie Antoinette and her husband eat miles apart from each other. This is an example of how food and the way it is presented can set the overall scene, its atmosphere and how the people around it are portrayed.

Oliver Twist

In this banquet scene, we first see the hungry orphan boys make their way to be served their daily meal consisting of gruel, they sing the famous song Food Glorious Food” from the film about Oliver Twist. They dream of all the food they wish to eat, such as hot sausages, pease-pudding, savaloys, cold jelly and custard, a big steak roasted or stewed, three banquets a day and the feeling of indigestion. Whilst heading to be served they are met with the delicious smell of roast chicken, warm meaty pies and hot vegetables. In a side room sit the Governors tucking into their feast. The big hearty dishes take the place of the tableware and add the decorative element to the table, whilst the tables where the orphans eat is sparse with just a spoon at every place. At one point during the song, we see the boys peak through the window, drooling over their rich feast. The contrast of both the orphans’ “banquet” and the Governor's Banquet presents a visual divide between the rich and poor, the sense of power, control possessed by the Governors, compared to the vulnerability we see in the children. Overall showing how powerful and the visual importance of food on the table can portray a message.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Unlike the other previous banquets, this one is far from the ordinary. We see the main character Indiana Jones, his friends and other important characters sit at a long table set in Pankot Palace. Long, green vines intertwine along the centre of the table and flowers in tall silver vases which adds a centrepiece to the table. Silverware at each place accompany the natural decorations on the table. The most visually exciting part of this banquet is the food. Jones and his friends are met with stomach-churning, surreal dishes that capture the audience’s eyes. Served with eyeball soup, snakes, bugs and monkey brains served in a bowl made from the monkeys’ heads. Each dish is visually striking and you cannot keep your eyes away. The dishes were used to keep the audience’s attention throughout this scene in the film.

Next Floor

In this banquet we see a group of people well dressed, although dusty, all digging into an array of barbaric dishes. A fur tablecloth runs through the centre of the table above sitting an array of meats, such as antelope, sharks, and other small mammals are served. We see men carving into each platter with silver carving utensils which adds a sense of cruelty. The table is never empty as servants fill the full plates after each bite. The feast is highly visual, and the food served is stomach-churning. All you can hear through the film is the sound of utensils clinging together, no talking, no conversations. The bitter silence and the raw sound of the utensils is eerie.

Victoria and Abdul

Queen Victoria hosts a banquet filled with her admirers. The long table is dressed in flowers running through the centre, with fine silverware and crockery symmetrically positioned at every place. A grand painting creates a backdrop for the royal banquet and behind every person stands a waiter dressed in red, ready to serve. At the head of the table is where Queen Victoria sits, looking down at all her guests. Unlike other banquets, there are no dishes presented on the table and each dish is beautifully presented on plates before serving the guests. Dinner included soup, braised beef, quenelle, and roast grouse. Followed by swiss tart and profiteroles. Once Queen Victoria takes her last bite before all the other guests finish, the waiters take all the plates away and serve the next dish. Overall, the banquet creates a royal impression within the scene.

Young Victoria

In this scene, we see a young Victoria at a royal banquet that is visually beautiful. Hosted in the great hall, a long table fills the length of the room. At the centre of the table lays tall, extravagant candles lighting the room and beautiful flower arrangements. The silverware is lined up symmetrical at each place, showing such precision, attention to detail to the presentation and high status for the banquet. Amongst the candles lies beautifully, architectural jellies and desserts that show great elegance. Each dish is a work of art and adds beauty to the table. The colours within the banquet create a warm feeling and a sense of wealth. This is a great image that captures food and the presentation as a piece of artwork.

Eat Drink Man Woman

In this scene, we see Chu at the table with his family for Sunday dinner, a long tradition within the family. The family is sat together around a round wooden table with a dumbwaiter at the centre. There are big sharing dishes placed in the centre for each person to serve themselves. Tableware includes chopsticks and small plates. Unlike a typical banquet, this is far from the big royal banquets we normally see in films before. However, like all banquets, this event is filled with people, eating, sharing food and talking to each other. This showcases how food and the dining table bring people together in one room.


Unlike other banquets, we see this banquet set outside with a long rectangular table. Many people are sat opposite one another at the table. At the head of the table stands a chair covered in leaves. This sets the natural scenery around the banquet taking place. Like most banquet, the dishes are placed down the centre of the table. Presenting them like pyramids makes the natural foods stand out. This includes bread, pickled fish, roasted meat, vegetables, and foraged foods such as flowers and berries. The natural bright colours in the food stand out from the use of the colour white in both the costumes and the tableware. Each glass is set in one straight line on each side of the table, creating a symmetrical scene that is highly visual.

Thanks to our intern Eleanor Beaumont (@eb_graphicdesign) for creating this article :)

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