Mike Leigh used to have bigoted grotesques in his urban dramas to ease the tension of black despair. They tended to take the form of comic relief and, as such, stood out like clowns in a concentration camp.

He is more confident now. There are no jokers in All Or Nothing, although humour runs through it. This is a story of depravation and despondency, of embittered exhaustion and broken dreams in a run down South London highrise, where teenagers treat their parents like useless baggage and mothers struggle with low paid jobs, "getting by, day in, day out," as if there is no end to the pain of living, while fathers - those that stayed - make a poor fist of being bread-winners.

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Despite the depressing nature of the subject matter, the film is heartfelt and uplifting. The teens are tough, but it's all an act. The mothers have too much love to give.

"How long did you know my dad, then?" a pregnant daughter screams at her mum.

"I dunno. About five minutes."

It's not the insults that hurt, it's the loneliness.

"I feel like an old tree that ain't got no water," the lazy minicab driver (Timothy Spall) admits to his long suffering common law wife (Lesley Manville), as tears stain his face. This is a rare moment of genuine emotion, shared between two people whose lines of communication have been choked by disappointment for years.

The ensemble cast is flawless, with Spall shuffling effortlessly into the role of a man who sees failure reflected in the eyes of others and Manville taut as a bow string, anticipating the worst, while fighting a solitary battle against the tide of apathy around her.

The script, attributed to Leigh, although more likely improvised by the actors and then tidied up afterwards, is tight to the tongue, rich with humanity and feeling, so fast it burns.

"Swear on yer muvver's grave."

"She ain't dead yet."

Two hours pass in a flash.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2002
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Mike Leigh investigates the sad, heartfelt lives of high-rise South Londoners.
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Director: Mike Leigh

Writer: Mike Leigh

Starring: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, James Corden, Marion Bailey, Alison Garland, Paul Jesson, Kathryn Hunter, Sally Hawkins, Helen Coker

Year: 2002

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2002

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