Gary Oldman came back to South London in 1996 after a decade in Hollywood, where movies of this conviction are as rare as skylarks. He co-produced, wrote the script, directed and put up half the money. It is, by anyone's standards, an astonishing achievement.

His depiction of working-class life, where the pub, the lads, the dope, the tarts, the crack and the Bill are as familiar as a urine-soaked concrete highrise stair, is uncompromising and threatening. Oldman shoots in washed out colour, so close you can taste the tears.

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Raymond (Ray Winstone) hangs out with Mark (Jamie Forman), indulging in casual criminal activities. He ignores Val (Kathy Burke), his wife, unless he wants a mug of tea, in which case he shouts for it. She is furniture, to be booted, used, moved around. The TV is on; the fags are lit; Mark's motor's running. They'll take in a club and heckle the stripper, coked out of their skulls, half cut as usual.

It is the abused and battered women who sew the seams of normality back. Val's younger brother (Charlie Creed-Miles) is a heroin addict, thieving off the family, insulting his mum (Laila Morse), who, in silent desperation, attempts to subsidise his £60-a-day habit. From ugliness and pain a little tenderness flows, as Val dances with her gran (Edna Dore) in the cramped kitchen, so exhausted she lets the moment carry her, still bruised from Raymond's last attack.

The writing burns the skin off language. Oldman's use of colloquial profanity is brutal and the acting explores new depths of commitment, with Winstone's performance towering.

The film's honesty is neither pretty, nor safe. This is a tough, tough ride.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2004
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The violent life of a working-class London family.
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Director: Gary Oldman

Writer: Gary Oldman

Starring: Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Charlie Creed-Miles, Laila Morse, Edna Dore, Chrissie Cotterill, Jon Morrison, Jamie Forman

Year: 1997

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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