Nil by Mouth is acclaimed actor Gary Oldman’s debut as writer/director and is set in deepest, darkest, scariest South London. The film follows a single family and various friends as they struggle with drugs, alcohol, poverty and violence. Never an easy watch, Nil by Mouth features a grounded and gritty script and some accomplished directing and won numerous awards on its release in 1997.
Raymond (Ray Winstone) is a wheeler-dealer type who gets by with various scams and small time crimes. His wife Valerie (Kathy Burke) is pregnant with their second child and her brother Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) scrounges off the pair and his mother Janet (Laila Morse) to feed his heroin habit. During the two hour, ten minute run time the various family members are attacked, beaten and arrested in what is a thoroughly depressing tale of abuse; both the abuse of substances and of each other.
About three minutes into Nil by Mouth my girlfriend, who was only half watching, turned to me and said “This is a naughty film, isn’t it?” That is putting it incredibly mildly. According to IMDb the film holds the record for the most uses of the word “cunt” which is uttered 82 times in total, mostly by Ray Winstone. The language itself is terrifying but is nothing compared with the violence. In the film’s most shocking scene a pregnant woman is beaten senseless by her husband. It makes for excruciating viewing and isn’t easy to watch. The film brings to the screen a side of London which is never seen by tourists or indeed the vast majority of its eight million residents but it remains recognisable due to its recognisable setting and naturalistic acting.