Nil By Mouth

Based on his memories of growing up on the rough streets of South London, actor Gary Oldman makes a volcanic debut as a writer and director in this shattering family drama. Don't expect British gentility. Oldman's take on the ties that bind within the pressure-cooker confines of working-class flats is as fierce as his performances in films from Sid and Nancy to Air Force One.

Raymond, the beefy thug played with scalding brilliance by Ray Winstone, certainly knows how to make life hell for those near and dear. Raymond's mouth is a weapon for shouting abuse at his wife, Valerie (Kathy Burke); her junkie brother, Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles); his mother-in-law, Janet (Laila Morse); and Janet's mum, Kath (Edna Dore).

With his pub mates, Raymond can use his mouth to spout raucously funny tirades against the world; fueled by drugs and alcohol, he manages to put a verbal shape to his rage. It's at home that he finds a more physical form of expression.

Raymond damn near bites off Billy's nose for stealing his drugs. The pregnant Valerie – "fuckin' cow," Raymond calls her – incites his jealously and is beaten so severely that she loses the baby. The acting is of the highest level – Burke deservedly won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival – but it's Winstone you'll remember as Raymond stands near-naked in front of a bathroom mirror, screaming abuse at himself and using his own body as a punching bag. Nil By Mouth is a shockingly intimate portrait of entrapment that may leave you wincing. It's Oldman's Raging Bull.

From The Archives Issue 780: February 19, 1998