Socialist Worker

Mike Leigh's All or Nothing – no escape from desolation row

by Mark Harvey
Issue No. 1822

DON'T EXPECT much sunlight to filter into the cinema if you go and see Mike Leigh's new film, All or Nothing. The film is an almost relentlessly bleak portrayal of life on a run down estate. Phil, played by Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has sunk into deep depression. His common-law wife makes more money than him.

He suffers the humiliation of borrowing bits of change from his own family to pay the rental on the cab radio. Characters vent their frustrations on other people. Phil's neighbour and fellow cab driver Ron shouts at other road users even when the dents his cab gets are his fault.

Ron's unemployed daughter hangs around fruitlessly goading and taunting the other young people. Phil takes his feelings of inadequacy out on himself. He has let himself go, no longer caring about his appearance, or able to get up in the mornings. His sense of powerlessness is summed up in his philosophy: 'Tide comes in, tide goes out. You're born, you die. That's it.'

His withdrawn daughter, who cleans at a care home, reads in her bedroom. His unemployed son swears and hits out at people for no reason. Poverty and misery have seeped into their world, devouring even their ability to communicate with each other. Only their stoical neighbour Maureen seems able to look on life with a cheery, kindly smile.

Otherwise the characters' responses to their own predicament are pitiable. This is especially so when it comes to the rather one-dimensional minor characters. There is little sense of the basic dignity of working class life that you find in, say, a novel by James Kelman. Leigh overstates the desolation and emptiness by creating characters barely able to do anything except stare at their shoes.

But when there is a chance to confront the lovelessness and loss of respect in Phil's household, there is a palpable sense of transformation.


MIKE FIGGIS has directed a partial re-enactment of the clash between miners and the police at Orgreave in 1984. Commentary from Tony Benn features throughout.
Artangel: The Battle of Orgreave,
Sunday 20 October, 7.15pm, Channel 4.

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Article information

Sat 19 Oct 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1822
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