All or Nothing [2002/I]

Writer-director Mike Leigh, after a brief detour into the period drama of Topsy-Turvy, returns to the lives of contemporary working-class Brits. Phil (longtime Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall, Secrets and Lies) is a quiet taxi driver whose marriage to Penny (Lesley Manville) has gone dry, though neither has quite realized it. They bicker with each other and their children and try to find some pleasure in going out with friends, but their friends have their own struggles--even Penny's coworker Maureen (Ruth Sheen), whose naturally buoyant personality is colliding with her resentful daughter's pregnancy. All or Nothing is among Leigh's bleakest films; the relentless misery of these characters' lives is hard to take. But thanks to the incredibly committed acting, when moments of tenderness come, they have a devastating impact. --Bret Fetzer

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