Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Life on the Borderline

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Life on the Borderline

Article excerpt


ALL OR NOTHING *** Cert 18, 128 mins

LOVE and loneliness are the themes of Mike Leigh's new film - like many of Mike Leigh's earlier films. The scene, too, will be familiar: a Greenwich housing estate, surveyed with Mass Observation detail, over one ordinary weekend. It holds you.

Even its opening minute or two, when nothing happens, no one speaks, holds you. A fat teenage girl mops the corridor in an old people's home, wrapped up in herself, perhaps a little too intense.

She's Phil's daughter, Rachel ( Alison Garland). Phil (Timothy Spall) is a minicab driver, just scraping by, dredging the sides of chairs for small change, seeing a lot of suffering life in the rear-view mirror of his cab.

Home life is quietly desperate, too.

His industrious wife, Penny ( Lesley Manville), works a checkout at the local Safeway, does crosswords for prizes as bedtime reading, and is the mainstay of household and husband. Their children are another matter, especially unemployed Rory (James Cordon), an obese couch potato who turns away from the dinner table to eat his meal on his lap and watch the telly: pigs are livelier.

These are people who talk, but don't communicate; who look, but don't see; who feel, but can't express themselves. Amazing how Leigh, using his customary workshop "development" technique to let individual actors elaborate characters, fascinates us with the ordinary.

Some critics say he lacks sympathy; they want warm human stresses to show the director cares. Maybe it's part of Leigh's own ethnic debt to Eastern Europe, but he has brought to British filmmaking that sense of observation void of false sentiment which the great Russian novelists possessed."Possessed" is the word here: every character is possessed by something in their nature - or, simply, their neighbours'.

The latter are a grim crowd: alcoholic-Carol (Marion Bailey) belting out karaoke at the pub on tottery legs; her cab driver husband, Ron (Paul Jesson), a fly-boy turned sloth and slob; upbeat single mum Maureen (Ruth Sheen), who even does laundry with optimism - one of those people who turn life's chores into cheerful demos.

The neighbours' daughters, waitress Donna (Helen Coker) and onthe-make Samantha (Sally Hawkins), have the belligerency of youth in their bony figures and painted faces.

A couple of hangers-around, swaggeringand uncouth Jason (Daniel Mays) and lurking and masochistic Craig (Ben Crompton), occasionally confront each other while eyeing the girls. A tree stands in the middle of the courtyard, looking worn out.

Like the lives around it.

When future generations want to see how part of Britain lived, All or Nothing is the film they will look at.

It's about people inhabiting a spiritual Marshalsea, a debtors' prison, because they can't cope. …

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