Raymond orders a round of drinks in the opening scene of NIL BY MOUTH. Even in the social atmosphere of a pub, there is an underlying aggression, with the feeling that should anyone get in his way, or spill a drop accidentally then there will be trouble. Raymond lives on the edge of violence and it shows. His controlled anger is relentless: sometimes it boils over; at times, it goes beyond what even we expect during this performance-driven portrait of a most dysfunctional working-class family, which shows a dark underbelly of English life. The verbal abuse spills into physical attacks on his wife and family. But, to those around him, for those in his world, it is a pattern of behaviour that they know. There is a grudging acceptance. What is abhorrent to others is a normal violent reaction. Unfortunate, maybe, but they learn to live with it.
There is a pattern throughout NIL BY MOUTH of alcohol and drug abuse among Raymond's family, friends and associates amid a bleak council estate in south-east London, where petty crime and violence have become a way of life. The film explores the lives of the individuals who find it impossible to live in family harmony. The realism is frightening at times. It is a realistic look at people who are rarely depicted in movies: ill-educated, unemployable addicts who use grim humour and co-dependency as a shield.
Raymond lives off crime and drug-pushing, with friend Mark, constantly belittling his wife, Valerie and her younger heroin-addicted brother Billy. His daughter Michelle watches the beatings and family abuse with mute acceptance. Raymond's mother-in-law Janet struggles with her own inadequacies to vainly keep a watchful eye on her disunited group. Their behaviour and human interaction is coloured by their language, often violent and profane, and a lack of communication skills between the sexes and generations.

NIL BY MOUTH marks the directorial debut of British actor Gary Oldman. It premiered at Cannes the day after European Film of the Year nominee THE FIFTH ELEMENT, in which Oldman stars; and it was produced by Element's director, Luc Besson. Based, says Oldman (who also wrote the screenplay), on his own experience growing up in South London, it focuses on a few violent weeks in the life of Ray, his wife Valerie, and her younger, heroin-addicted brother, Billy. Kathie Burke won Best Actress at Cannes for her role in the film, which recently opened to rave reviews in the UK.

Director's Biography

Gary Oldman grew up in the hard-drinking pub atmosphere, which he captures an film in NIL BY MOUTH. The Five Bells Tavern, Deptford, which was used in the film, was a few hundred yards from where he was born. But Gary, 39, can recall that it was the expectation among his friends and family which introduced him to the pub' culture, rather than choice.
“I wasn't physically pushed into the pub, but my peers and my culture demanded it of me," he says. It was a case of 'You are going to learn how to drink light and keg. And you're going to stand at the bar and play darts.' I hated it. I never liked beer. But I would do it and make myself incredibly ill from doing it, because it is like my graduation. It was a case of: 'I am a working-class boy in a working-class district and now I have reached 15 and I graduate to standing at the bar.'
“But I am fascinated by bar-room conversation and really enjoyed coming back and being in the old neighbourhood. No-one ever says: 'Really, I didn't know that.' They'll just say, "Oh, yeah, I used to fly those."
Oldman has been honest about his alcoholism. Ironically, it was not the wish to be drinking huge amounts surrounded by friends in a public house which dragged him in to it: "By nature, I'm an isolationist, so my boozing was at home, thank you," he says. "I was not a goer-outer. I mean, I didn't drink for the taste and I did not want to be particularly social. Someone once described alcoholics as egomaniacs with low self-esteem. That is a perfect definition."
Gary Oldman's film career began in 1986, playing the late Sex Pistols guitarist Sid Vicious in SID AND NANCY. His convincing horrifying portrayal won him the London Evening Standard's Best Newcomer award. He had already made his name in London during the mid-80s, with several exceptional performances at the Royal Court, where he worked exclusively between 1985 and 1989. But the film took his career on a new course, since he seemed instantly acceptable to American audiences.
He has since become one of Britain's leading film actors, working regularly in big-budget movies in the United States and Europe.
His Feature Films include (with directors in brackets) PRICK UP YOUR EARS (Stephen Frears), ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD (Tom Stoppard), STATE OF GRACE (Phil Joanou), JFK (Oliver Stone), BRAM STOKERS’S DRACULA (Francis Ford Coppola), ROMEO IS BLEEDING (Peter Mediak), TRUE ROMANCE (Tony Scott), THE PROFESSIONAL (Luc Besson), MURDER IN THE FIRST (Mark Rocco), IMMORTAL BELOVED (Bernard Rose), and THE SCARLET LETTER (Roland Joffe).

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Gary Oldman

Written by: Gary Oldman

Produced by: Gary Oldman, Douoglas Urbanski, Luc Besson

Cinematography: Ron Fortunato

Editing: Brad Fuller

Production Design: Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski

Costume Design: Barbara Kidd

Make-Up & Hair: Fae Hammond

Cast: Charlie Creed-Myles (Billy), Laila Morse (Janet), Ray Winstone (Raymond), Kathy Burke (Valerie)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Cinematographer – Prix Carlo Di Palma 1997
  • Feature Film Selection 1997