All Or Nothing At All (1993)

 “They don’t come much darker than you, do they?”

All Or Nothing At All is a British made-for-television three-part miniseries starring the talented Hugh Laurie as con man and gambler Leo Hopkins. The film opens at a party at the gorgeous multi-million pound country home of Leo, his wife, Jane (Jessica Turner) and their three children. To Leo’s acquaintances, he appears to have the perfect life: Leo’s a happily married, successful financial analyst. Envied by his society friends, everyone wonders just how Leo “does it.” He seems to have the Midas touch.

The story gradually strips away the layers of lies surrounding Leo’s life. A practiced con man, Leo cashes in on the greed of his friends and relatives, but since Leo is also addicted to gambling, it’s just a matter of time before his life crumbles into ruin.

The film is rather well executed. Hugh Laurie is perfectly cast as Leo, and he’s surrounded here by an equally excellent cast–including Bob Monkhouse as his boss, Giles. Leo is funny, unassuming and seems to be non-threatening (in contrast to some of his sleazier friends, Duncan, for example). Leo appears to be just eccentric enough to be a financial wizard, so when he promises his friends impossibly high returns on investments, they’re all too happy to believe it. Leo is particularly good at deceiving women, and we see the three main women he manipulates–his wife Jane, his long-suffering and far-too-devoted secretary Marion (Pippa Guard) and Diane (Sioban McCarthy)–a woman who places Leo’s insane bets.

It’s the characters here that make the film so rich. Leo moves in a society that’s largely superficial–a society in which markers of affluence are more important than how that affluence was achieved. And since a frank discussion of money making is considered bad form, Leo can acquire his friends’ money with few questions asked.

On the surface, Leo is a very likeable fellow, and he’s so likeable that it’s easy to see how he gets away with so much. On the other hand, some of his greed-bag friends are pushy and unpleasant. We tend to think of con men as greedy, mean spirited people, but Leo is portrayed as someone who’s largely oblivious to the damage he causes, and if he does stop to think about what he does, he marks his actions up to ‘wanting people to like him.’ The acting is excellent, and the conclusion isn’t easy to predict–in spite of all the very obvious paths this story takes. At one point, the film hints that Leo has fabricated other parts of his life; in an early scene, he slips when recalling his university days, but the film, rather frustratingly, just hints at this and doesn’t explore this aspect of Leo’s life any further. If you like British television drama, then there’s an excellent chance that you’ll enjoy this entertaining drama. Directed by Andrew Grieve.

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Filed under British, British television

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