Cult Movie: Nil By Mouth a tough watch on vitally important issue of domestic abuse

Nil By Mouth has been reissued by the BFI
Ralph McLean

Nil By Mouth

RARELY has the subject of domestic abuse been covered with such uncompromising candour as it is in Nil By Mouth.

Gary Oldman's brutal study of violence, family coercion and casual crime in working class London has just turned 25 and to mark that significant birthday it's been given the full whistles and bells reissue treatment by the BFI.

That means a brand new 4K transfer and a plethora of extra features spread across two Blu-ray discs.

It's a timely reminder of just how important the film was both in 1997 and today.

Strip away the trimmings and the raw, nasty naturalism of Oldman's vision of the world in which he grew up with all its unfettered machismo, casual alcoholism and relentless abuse within the family circle and a true cinematic masterpiece remains though.

It's hard to overstate the power the story still has to shock and distress or the impact that the central performances from Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke still have on you long after the credits have rolled. Once seen this is a film that's very hard to shake from your mind.

A double Bafta-winning portrait of a bleak pre-millennium world that still sadly resonates in 2022, this has been available on the BFI Player throughout November but gets the traditional physical release on December 5.

A punch to the gut when it came out and a still potent portrait of humanity at its very worst, Nil By Mouth remains a perfect example of a film that's easy to admire artistically but very hard to love on any other front.

Oldman's almost invisible directorial style recalls the stark realism of someone like John Cassavetes and that naturalistic style combined with a powerful script, at once suitably economical and wildly foul mouthed, makes for an oddly non-cinematic viewing experience.

That may sound like a criticism but it still retains a power to keep you watching despite the horror it throws at you.

As the pathetic Ray, an all too believable tragic sack of booze-fuelled bravado and childish self-pity, Ray Winstone is simply stunning.

A hair trigger temper and a lifetime of disappointment combine to make one of British cinema's truly horrific everyday monsters.

Kathy Burke turns in an equally astonishing performance as Ray's much put upon wife Val. Her natural empathy for the real people that life leaves behind makes, once again, for uncomfortable viewing but it's impossible not to be impressed by the depth of emotion she evokes as the domestic abuse and mental torture spirals ever downwards.

If you were to seek a word to capture the mood that Nil By Mouth summons up, 'dark' would barely begin to cover it and, if like me, you mostly seek out film to provide some much needed escape from the brutality of the everyday then you may want to look elsewhere for your small screen kicks.

As a beautifully executed and hugely personal vision of how family life can descend into hell for the millions kicked unceremoniously to the kerb by society though this is a genuinely important piece of work.