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Nil by Mouth (film)

Nil by Mouth is a 1997 British drama film portraying a family of characters living in South East London. It was Gary Oldman's debut as a writer and director; the film was produced by Oldman, Douglas Urbanski and Luc Besson. It stars Ray Winstone as Raymond, the abusive husband of Valerie (Kathy Burke).

Nil by Mouth
Nil by mouth poster.jpg
Directed byGary Oldman
Produced byGary Oldman
Douglas Urbanski
Luc Besson
Written byGary Oldman
Music byEric Clapton
CinematographyRon Fortunato
Edited byBrad Fuller
Distributed by20th Century Fox (United Kingdom)
ARP Sélection (France)
Release date
  • 8 May 1997 (1997-05-08) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • 10 October 1997 (1997-10-10) (United Kingdom)
  • 5 November 1997 (1997-11-05) (France)
Running time
128 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$9 million[2]
Box office$266,130[2]


In a working class South London district lives Raymond; his wife, Valerie; her brother, Billy; Valerie and Billy's mother, Janet; and their grandmother, Kathy. Billy is a drug addict, and Raymond kicks him out when he steals drugs from him. Billy hangs out with his heroin addict friends and they shoot up together. The family is dysfunctional, mostly due to Raymond's fiery-temper and violent outbursts. When Valerie gets pregnant again, she continues to smoke and drink.

Valerie goes out on the town, and when Ray sees an attractive male friend of hers, he flies into a jealous rage, ordering her out of the pub and into the car. Back home, he accuses her of sleeping with the male friend, and pummels her to a pulp, causing her to miscarry. He tries to win her back, but she leaves him and prepares to start a new life without him. In an alcohol-fuelled rage, he angrily tears their flat apart. He tells Mark, his friend, that the reason for his horrible behavior is his own abusive father, who was the same way with him and his mother. Later, he tries to reconcile with Valerie; however, she is outraged, and says that when she reaches 70, she wants to look back on this part of her life, as she is now 30, as a time when she had some fun. What she has instead is people feeling sorry for her.

Valerie doesn't want to return to Ray, pointing out they haven't got a home to go back to because he's smashed it all up. She will try and find someone to be with that will love her and treat her kindly. Ray goes to see Valerie and asks her if she still loves him. Ray and Valerie are eventually back together again, and Ray has fixed up the apartment. Ray speaks as crudely as ever, but begins to restrain himself from his usual angry outbursts. Billy, and his friend Danny, rob a man to support their drug habit and wind up going to prison. This reunites not only Ray with Valerie, but re-unites the whole family.



The film depicts the environment Oldman witnessed growing up on a council estate in South East London. Oldman's sister Laila Morse plays Janet and his mother voices a song in the film. The title is a medical instruction (literally "nothing by mouth"), meaning that a patient must not take food or water. It is set to the soundtrack "Peculiar Groove" by Frances Ashman.


In 2001, Mind The Gap Theatre performed a stage adaptation in New York City as part of the British Airways sponsored UKwithNYC.

The screenplay, with introduction by Douglas Urbanski, was published in 1997 by ScreenPress Books.

A photo-diary of the film's production, containing photos by Jack English, was published in 1998 by ScreenPress Books.


Nil by Mouth received generally positive reviews. It currently holds a 67% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.33/10.[3] Roger Ebert awarded the film 3.5/4 stars, writing: "The film's portrait of street life in South London is unflinching and observant."[4] The film grossed $266,130 from 18 theatres in North America.[2]

In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 21st best British film ever.[5]


Nil by Mouth features the word "cunt" 82 times, more than any other film in history. It also features 428 uses of the word "fuck" and its derivatives,[6] more than any film at the time until Summer of Sam surpassed it two years later; but it remains the highest ranked (as of 2019) with regards to the average number of utterances per minute of running time, with 3.34 / min (leaving aside Swearnet: The Movie, which is more of a concept movie revolving around that very theme, and Fuck, a documentary on the phenomenon).[citation needed]

Awards and nominationsEdit

  • 1997 Cannes Film Festival:
  • 1997 Edinburgh International Film Festival:
    • Winner: Channel 4 Director's Award (Gary Oldman)
  • 1997 European Film Awards:
    • Nominee: Best Cinematographer (Ray Fortunato)
  • 1997 BAFTA Awards:
  • 1998 British Independent Film Awards:
    • Winner: Best Performance by a British Actor in an Independent Film (Ray Winstone)
    • Winner: Best Performance by a British Actress in an Independent Film (Kathy Burke)
    • Winner: Most Promising Newcomer in any Category (Laila Morse)
    • Nominee: Best British Director of an Independent Film (Gary Oldman)
    • Nominee: Best British Independent Film
    • Nominee: Best Original Screenplay by a British Writer of a Produced Independent Film (Gary Oldman)
  • 1998 Empire Awards:
    • Winner: Best Debut (Gary Oldman)
  • 1997 Royal Variety Club of Great Britain
    • Winner: Best Film Actress (Kathy Burke)[8]
  • 1997: Golden Frog Award:
    • Nominee: Cinematography (Ron Fortunato)


  1. ^ "NIL BY MOUTH (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 22 July 1997. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Nil By Mouth (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  3. ^ "Nil by Mouth". Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  4. ^ "Nil by Mouth Movie Review & Film Summary (1998)". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  5. ^ "The 100 best British films". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  6. ^ "NIL BY MOUTH". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Nil by Mouth". Retrieved 23 September 2009.
  8. ^ "Kathy Burke - Awards". Retrieved 23 September 2017.

External linksEdit