All or Nothing/Alt eller ingenting

Mike Leigh?s film All or Nothing is an excellent description of everyday people in Britain today. The film describes the life of the grey, poor, stagnant Basset family living in a bleak council estate in south-London. The family is slowly falling apart, a marriage is breaking up and things don?t look good at all. Then there?s a turning point through an even tougher blow to the family, which in the end though seems to make life more liveable for them. In essence All or Nothing gives us a deeper view of how hard but also hopeful life can be at the bottom end of British society.


First we will have a look at the characters of the film. At the core of the story in Mike Leigh?s film we find the miserable Basset family. Consisting of minicab driver Phil, wife Penny, daughter Rachel and son Rory. It is an unhappy family, who are going nowhere.

Phil is a failure as a cabdriver and has to pay his employer with money borrowed from the rest of the family. At one time he even fights with Roy over a fifty pence coin found down the sofa. He has lost his dignity and his self-esteem and seems to keep some sort of distance to his own life and his own family. For example he does not get involved when Rory behaves badly towards his mother.

Penny, his wife, is also run down by all the troubles of everyday life. Working as a checkout clerk at Safeway?s she is trying to keep the family together. She is the breadwinner of the family and she also tries to keep contact with Rory and Rachel. Her role is a more active one in relation to the children than Phil?s is. The marriage with Phil is not at it?s best. They talk past each other and she always brings up how he doesn?t get up in the mornings. He looses the best customers that way, she says. Penny also got fights with her son Rory about getting a job and escaping the television. She is trying hard to be a proper mother.

Rory is not trying to be a proper son though. The television is his best friend. He is an addict and has to watch it all the time. When he does go outside he ends up fighting someone smaller than himself. Rory has got a lot of aggression coming out against everyone. He is especially abusive against his mother, swearing at her and being rude. At one time it seems like the only words he knows are ?fack off?. It seems like he will burst at any moment and of course in the end he does. It doesn?t help his heart that he is very fat either.

Rachel is a stark contrast to her brother. The only thing she has in common with her brother is her weight. She doesn?t act her troubles out but shuts them in. As a result she doesn?t say much or hardly anything. Rachel is quiet and kind to all people. She works at a home for old people. The only escape she has is reading love stories in bed at night.

More on the edges of the story we find the friends of the family. They are also struggling. Phil?s mate and fellow cabdriver Ron, wife Carol and daughter Samantha got problems because of drinking. Especially Carol, but also Ron has a drinking problem. Their abuse of alcohol and their neglect has also led Samantha into trouble. She is bored and restless.

The other family in the story is Maureen and Donna. Maureen is a single mother but energetic and positive. She might be the only one coping with her life and she brightens up the situation. Her daughter Donna is worse off though. Being pregnant with her abusive boyfriend Jason being the father. Maureen dislikes Jason. Donna is moody towards her mother because of this and because she is pregnant.


The setting of a story is important because it sets the feeling of the story. In this story you can find similarities between the physical environment, the setting, and the situation of the Basset family. The story is set at a bleak run down council estate in the south of London. The estate is slowly being worn down and so are the Bassets. This is not a rich part of London and so it reflects the Basset?s struggle to get by. Phil?s car is old, the flats they live in are simple and even their pub is a bit worn. It?s all; it seems, bleak and joyless.


The story in the film works around these characters and in this setting. In the first part of the film there is a thorough description of the members of the family and the family falling apart.

Nothing can stop it, or? The Bassets live sad miserable lives seemingly going nowhere. Then one day the change comes! While Phil drives out of town to think things over, Rory collapses at home. He is brought to the hospital and Penny soon joins him. Rory has got a serious heart illness and has to go on medication and start eating properly. They can?t get hold of Phil though and Penny becomes very upset. When he finally shows up he gets a scolding from Penny for not being there. There is a serious confrontation between them because of Rory?s collapse and Phil?s absence. They finally get the courage to face their hopeless situation. Phil for once in his life stands up for himself and accuses Penny of not loving him any more, not respecting him any more and for taking away his dignity. They have hit rock bottom as a family. Phil sums up the situation by saying, ? I ain?t go nothin if you don?t love me?. Rachel breaks out of her quiet self and supports her dad. Penny sees she has done Phil wrong by talking down to him. So Phil and Penny talk and make their peace. Because all they got in this world are each other and their family.

Phil and Penny have not got fancy jobs, perfect friends, a good education and a large house. The jobs they have are barely enough to pull them through and their friends have less money and more trouble than they have. They realise they got no new places to go and that they have to make the best of it and love each other and their family. In the end Penny stops picking on Phil and Phil starts working earlier. You can see that they start coming together like a family again. There is at least some hope in their gloomy lives.


Here are some points you might want to think about in relation to the film and the story in it. It might be good to use them before viewing All or Nothing.

  • The physical environment/setting/where they live, work, etc.
  • The social conditions/what people are like/what problems they got.
  • The characters/people in the film. Do they change, or?
  • Compare with Norway. How things look and the situation for ordinary people.
  • Language.
  • Music in the film.


This is a film which describes the bottom end of British society in a very brutal honest but caring way.

All or Nothing will give your pupils insight they can?t possibly obtain from any book in the national curriculum. It is also an easy way of getting them to discuss deeper traits of UK society. The film is therefore especially relevant for points 1 and 5b of the part of the national curriculum for upper secondary school concerning English. Even though it is a fairly grown up film it might also be viewed with benefit in secondary school.

If you look at the thinking points you might find themes to bring up with your class in relation to the film. The language can be an interesting thing to look at. Is there a connection between language, living conditions and social setting? Have a look at the title of the film. You might want to ask your pupils if they would want to live with this family. Do they recognise anything of themselves in the teenagers in the film? Is there a generation gap? Do these people vote and if so which party do they vote for? Is the film really about society or is it about people and their troubles? What is the future like for the Basset family and the other families? What was the cure of some of their problems according to the film? Was it social change or was it love?

As I see it the film is not about society but about real, fat, ordinary people with real problems. Compare this film with the film Bridget Jones diary. Spot the difference? Can you see Hugh Grant as Phil Basset? I don?t think so. The story is about families and individuals who are struggling, but who muddles through life by loving and caring for each other.



Forfatter:Pål Midtsæther Grødahl
Klassetrinn: [Videregående]
Fag: Mediefag , Samfunnsfag , Engelsk
Tema:Helse og rus, Oppvekst/familie, Politikk og samfunn


Forfatter:Pål Midtsæther Grødahl
Norsk Filminstitutt
Adresse Oslo: Dronningens gate 16 0152 Oslo, +47 22 47 45 00
Adresse Bergen: Media City Bergen, Lars Hilles gate 30, 5008 Bergen