ALL OR NOTHING (Mike Leigh, 2002)

Working-class lives populate a South London housing complex in writer-director Mike Leigh’s delicately judged, cumulatively massively moving All or Nothing. Much of the focus is on a particular family, the Bassetts: Penny, who works as a supermarket checkout clerk and whose heart, over time, has drifted away from her spouse, whom she sees as less reliable and hardworking than she; this husband, taxi cab driver Phil, who still loves his less soulful wife and quietly suffers her aggressive disappointment in him, however misguidedly she has turned him in her mind into a scapegoat for much vaster disappointment; Rachel, their daughter, who works in a home for the elderly; Rory, their lazy, belligerent son, whose heart attack challenges the family to come together. Father and offspring, unlike Penny, are all overweight. Delicious: Rory’s doctor’s cataloguing all the fried things that Rory should no longer eat.
     Leigh’s work has always been iffy; for me, Secrets and Lies (1996) and Vera Drake are too sentimentally compromised to take seriously. Despite what Leigh apparently believes, nothing he has done is perfectly unsentimental; but his best work, to which the film at hand belongs, is only lightly brushed with sentimentality. Primarily, All or Nothing depicts hard lives with realism and compassion. The passage in which Phil goes off on his own to the seashore in his cab while Penny tries desperately to contact him to tell him what has happened to their son is achingly sad.
     Lesley Manville (best actress, London critics), Leigh’s replacement for Allison Steadman in his affections, is striking as Penny, but Timothy Spall, as Phil, gives the performance of his career. Here, he is beyond his best.

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