Films To Watch Before You Die #99 – Nil By Mouth (1997)

D.J. Haza presents the penultimate entry in his series of films to watch before you die…

Nil By Mouth, 1997.

Directed by Gary Oldman.
Starring Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles and Laila Morse.

Nil By Mouth is the dark and gritty tale of a family living on a London council estate and explores working class life as well as drugs, drink, domestic abuse and family. Despite its poor box office performance, the film won several awards and is recognised as an outstanding and unflinching look at life on the mean streets of London.

The film follows the story of pregnant Valerie (Burke) and her abusive husband Raymond (Winstone) as their relationship hits upon rocky patches and family complications. Raymond is a social drug user and heavy drinker living in a small flat with Valerie and her young daughter. Raymond offers Valerie’s younger brother Billy (Creed-Miles) drugs on a booze fuelled night out and when continuing their night back at the flat Billy steals the drugs. Raymond reacts furiously and beats Billy before biting his nose and throwing him out of the flat.

Billy’s mother Janet (Morse) supports her son’s habit for a while, but when she refuses he breaks into Valerie and Raymond’s flat and steals things to sell. Raymond is furious, but Valerie and Janet keep Billy out of Raymond’s way so he can’t hurt him. When Raymond sees Valerie playing pool with a male friend, Angus, he confronts her later that night and beats her. Janet sees her marks from the beating and Valerie insists she was hit by a car, but suffers pain and a miscarriage shortly after. In hospital she confesses all to Janet.

When Raymond finds out that Janet intends to keep Raymond away from Valerie he becomes even more violent and throws a rock through her window and fights with Angus. As Valerie hides out at Angus’ Raymond tries to call her, but can’t say anything and intead destroys his own flat. When Billy is arrested, sent to prison and knifed the family come back together and Valerie and Raymond are reunited.

Nil By Mouth is a bleak tale based upon Gary Oldman’s own experiences of living on a London council estate and is filled with a saddening realism of lives darkened by alcohol, drugs and crime. Oldman’s own sister Laila Morse plays the part of Janet and the story echoes their childhood with their alcoholic father. The film packs plenty of punches and its character’s stories of destructive behaviour towards each other is a statement about people’s abilities to hurt those they care for most.

Nil By Mouth is a film you must see before you die as the word ‘fuck’ is used 428 times over its 128 minute running time and occurs at an average of 3.34 times per minute – a feat only surpassed by one other feature film, Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam.

D.J. Haza

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