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Movie Review

All or Nothing

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Directed by Mike Leigh, starring Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Alison Garland, James Corden, Ruth Sheen and Marion Bailey.

Following the costume extravaganza that was 1999's 'Topsy Turvy', Mike Leigh returns to the fray with a signature chunk of dysfunctional working class life set in a run-down London apartment block.

Timothy Spall's Phil is a lazy and depressed mini-cab driver, trying to hold the edges of his fraying life together. His partner Penny (Manville), a hardworking supermarket cashier, doesn't seem to love him any more, focusing her - often carping - attention on their two overweight children; withdrawn Rachel (Garland) who is a cleaner in an old folks home and aggressive layabout Rory (Corden). During the first hour, Leigh also introduces their neighbours - alcoholic and maudlin Carol (Bailey), wife of one of Phil's mini-cab colleagues and the interminably cheerful Maureen (a wonderful Sheen) who works with Penny.

Despite their proximity, each of the characters leads a life of quiet desperation, isolated in their own bubble of misery. It eventually takes a medical emergency to shake Phil and Penny out of their rut, leading to an emotionally cathartic scene where the couple finally manage to reach out to each other with the hope of renewed love.

Rarely has a man looked so lugubrious as Timothy Spall's Phil, reduced, in one mortifying scene, to scrounging money from his family to put petrol in his mini-cab. Driving around London with a fixed 10-yard stare, his diverse range of customers includes one French woman who wonders aloud if his children are as fat as he is. Standing alongside Spall's sensitive portrayal of terminal resignation is Lesley Manville's outstanding performance as a woman living - barely - on her nerves and desperately trying to hold her family together. A regular in Leigh's films, Manville is a pressure cooker of frustration and sadness who eventually explodes.

Leigh's unflinching observation of the desperation of working class life makes 'All or Nothing' a portrait of relentless bleakness. Great filmmaking, undoubtedly, but not to be undertaken lightly.

Caroline Hennessy

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