Working-class couple Valerie (Kathy Burke) and Ray (Ray Winstone, pictured) are trapped in a cycle of alcoholism, drug abuse and horrific domestic violence. Sharing their South London council flat with Valerie's junkie brother Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles) and mother (Laila Morse - EastEnders' Big Mo), the pair act out their roles as abuser and victim with a bleak inevitabililty, with small flashes of tenderness making their predicament all the more heartbreaking to witness. After yet another brutal beating at Ray's hands, Valerie contemplates breaking free of her drudge-like existence, but can she ever really escape?
In his directorial debut, which he dedicated to his father, Gary Oldman created a powerful, complex drama that offers no easy answers. The violence is never excused or whitewashed, but nor is Ray a typical pantomime villain, and the self-fulfilling, cyclical nature of domestic abuse is hammered home to the audience. Released in 1997, the performances from Winstone and Burke (who won Best Actress at Cannes) are extraordinary and, while at times it can be difficult to watch, this is an absorbing and utterly compelling take on the British "kitchen-sink" genre.