This harrowing writing and directorial debut from actor Gary Oldman centres on violence and alcoholism within a working-class family in a claustrophobic Bermondsey (south London) housing estate where drugs, drink and crime are part of everyday life.
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 of terrifying, cocaine-abusing, vodka-swilling wife-beater Ray, trapped in a spiral of drunken rage.
Kathy Burke matches Winstone’s intensity – and won the best actress award at Cannes – for her performance as his pregnant wife, Valerie, a sad, downtrodden woman trapped by horrible circumstances.
Charlie Creed-Miles provide sterling support 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.