Directors: Paddy Considine
Cast: Peter Mullan, Olivia Coleman and Eddie Marsan
Release date: 6th February 2012
Tyrannosaur, the debut feature as writer/director from actor Paddy Considine, is not an easy sell. A dark drama dealing with issues of rage, urban blight and domestic violence is not an obvious choice for a viewing with a takeaway and a few tins of Stella. Indeed, in spite of glowing reviews from British critics and the best efforts of its distributor the film failed to make much UK box office impact. On theatrical release it got rather lost in the shadow cast by the success of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. However with its DVD and Blu-ray release Tyrannosaur has a second chance to find its audience buoyed up by its success at the British Independent Film Awards (where it won best film, best debut director and best actress for Olivia Coleman).
I’ll spare you any tired jokes about a lack of giant reptile action. The film opens with a difficult (but tastefully shot) scene in which Joseph (Mullan), a middle aged man with very severe anger management problems, leaves a bookies in a rage and overcome with anger kicks his pet dog to death. Joseph lives alone on benefits following the passing of his wife, and the dog was his only companion. It’s unclear what’s the cause of his rage but it fires out in every direction, blighting his life and scorching his relationships. Stricken with remorse for killing his pet, and trying to flee his anger after yet another random violent confrontation, he takes refuge in a charity shop. There he meets Hannah (Colman). Hannah treats Joseph with compassion and asks if he would like her to pray for him. He reacts badly to her act of kindness, but finds himself drawn to visit the shop again and again.
Joseph’s assumptions that Hannah leads a cosy middle class life are challenged when she arrives at work with a black eye. In fact Hannah’s home life is anything but cosy, as she is a victim of horrific psychological and physical domestic abuse at the hands of her truly vile husband (a very creepy performance by Eddie Marsan). Hannah and Joseph form a strange bond, the foul mouthed, possibly racist, working class hardman, and the polite, Christian, middle class wife. As this develops each discovers more about the other, and we find out more about the roots of Joseph’s rage.
Tyrannosaur is a difficult film, it features cruelty to animals (not actual, this isn’t Cannibal Holocaust), sexual violence, racism, and copious use of the strongest possible language. All of these are likely to send many viewers reaching for the off button. This would be a shame, because actually this is one of the strongest British films of last year. Debut director Considine is working in a working class milieu very similar to that of his frequent collaborator, director Shane Meadows, but the film is also reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s Naked with its angry male loner character.
Mullan is superb as Joseph, it takes some doing to keep an audience sympathetic with a character who is first seen kicking a dog to death, and then racially abusing an Asian shopkeeper, but somehow Mullan manages to make his character’s inner struggle visible on his grizzled face. That his performance seems to have been overshadowed by Coleman’s is more to do with the fact that this is the sort of hardman character Mullan has played so many times it seems effortless. However Olivia Coleman deserves every one of the plaudits she has received. Primarily known for her work in comedies such as Hot Fuzz and Confetti, and on television in Peep Show and Rev (among many others). Here the actress is heartbreaking, playing a woman trapped in a hideous relationship with no one to turn to, and no apparent escape. The relationship between these two characters could be seen as unlikely, but the actors sell it so well it seems completely natural.
It is a sad truth that victims of domestic violence are often treated unsympathetically because those who have not experienced this kind of abuse fail to understand why the victim would not leave the relationship immediately. Hannah’s story shows clearly how difficult this is, and Coleman does not play her as a quiet mousey character, but one of considerable personal strength and decency. In one sequence Hannah is afraid to go home. She drinks herself into a stupor in a nightclub, but a helpful hen night find her passed out on the pavement and call her husband. This is as terrifying as any Hollywood thriller.
My only criticism is that the final 10 minutes of the film move the story in a rather over dramatic direction which I personally felt was a little too neat. My taste would have been for something rather more low key. This is a minor criticism of an excellent piece of work. This is a film of harsh realities, but with a warm beating heart. Considine cares for these characters, and so will you. I’m not ashamed to say I bawled my eyes out. One of the best films of last year, and had I seen it on release it would be in my top 10 of 2011.
Extras: audio commentary with Considine and producer Diarmid Scrimshaw, the short film ‘Dog Altogether’ of which Tyrannosaur is an expansion, deleted scenes with commentary, stills, trailer.
Rating: 4 stars