Nil By Mouth is not a film famed for being quotable. Based on Gary Oldman’s own life growing up in south London it is the only film he has directed to date. Two hours of intense social realism focused on the miserable lives of Raymond (Ray Winstone), Val (Kathy Burke) and their family. With themes of drug and alcohol addiction accompanied with a scene of domestic violence, this couldn’t be described as an enjoyable watch – but it does contain some of the best acting I have ever seen.
The script is minimal and contains over 500 uses of the word “fuck” helping Oldman to capture the realism he wanted. The scene in question is one of the first in the film and sees Ray’s friend Mark (Jamie Foreman) telling a story about a sex party he attended in Bromley. He describes the hilarious swingers party he had been invited to by “Deborah, the right good looking sort”. The telling of the story is punctuated by important breaks, which start to paint a picture of the characters we are dealing with – before Mark starts the story Ray complains that his wife is driving him fucking mad – a sense of foreboding already looms about Ray and Val’s volatile relationship. In the middle of the story Mark is interrupted again by someone bumping into him – his aggressive reaction is an early glimpse of the type of people that these men are. In the conclusion of the scene Mark finally delivers the punch line - he says that to ease into the party he started to roll himself a spliff. In amongst the sodomy of the orgy, upon seeing the presence of drugs one of the women who at the time was “getting a severe portion” asks in dismay: “Oh no, it’s not gonna be one of those parties is it?”
Foreman’s story in the early stages kicks the film off with a funny bang – but it’s the last time you’ll be close to laughter throughout.
Two particular conversations between Ray and Mark are the most important elements of the film - the first one we see is this hilarious opener but the most significant occurs towards the end of the film after we have witnessed what a monster Ray is. Foreman’s presence in the second scene is almost anonymous - he is there merely as Winstone’s focal point to deliver one of the best on-screen performances of all time. He movingly reveals to the audience why Ray is the person he is. It could have almost been filmed as a monologue.
Foreman’s story in the early stages kicks the film off with a funny bang – but it’s the last time you’ll be close to laughter throughout. The only comic relief in the film. Oldman cleverly sets the backdrop with Foreman’s anecdote – the way the characters interact with each other - an accurate portrayal of the working classes. I’ve overheard or encountered many similar conversations in my visits to pubs in the south-east of London where the film is set. What is important about the scene is that these funny stories in the pub are in reality all that is seen by those of us fortunate enough to come from nicer homes. By opening the film in a pub with a story such as this, Oldman reminds us of people we have very often brushed shoulders with – it is from here on in we see what goes on between them behind closed doors – and it’s terrifying.
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