This harrowing directorial debut from actor Gary Oldman centres on violence and alcoholism within a working-class family in the claustrophobic environment of a Bermondsey (south London) housing estate.
Although the film is not specifically autobiographical, Oldman has drawn from his own experiences growing up with an alcoholic father in neighbouring New Cross to create a portrait of dysfunctional domestic life that is both convincing and compelling.
Ray Winstone is brilliant in the central role as terrifying, cocaine-abusing, alcoholic wife-beater Ray, trapped in a descending spiral of drunken rage.
Kathy Burke matches Winstone’s intensity – and won the best actress award at Cannes – for her performance as his wife, Valerie, a sad, downtrodden woman trapped by horrible circumstances.
Sterling support is provided by Charlie Creed-Miles as Val’s heroin-addict brother Billy and Laila Morse (Oldman’s real-life sister) as Janet, Val and Billy’s mum.
Occasional moments of levity are provided by Jamie Foreman’s Mark, an excellent and ribald raconteur.
Though uncompromising in its portrayal of violence, Nil by Mouth tempers its bleakness with moments of tender understanding and wounding insight.