Cineworld Glasgow, 11.10.11
Debut feature director Paddy Considine and star Peter Mullen have both been at pains in press interviews for their new film Tyrannosaur to emphasise that it is not another British film of social realism, in the line of Ken Loach or Tony Richardson. One obvious reason for this is that such a label can easily prove to be box office poison, and by trying to assure the audience that, despite looking like a film with all the troupes of a social realist film, Tyrannosaur is something more, they could cynically be trying to protect the film from potential financial disaster. There is, however, a more valid reason for their insistence, which can be boiled down to simply this – although the story includes working class people, council estates, suburbia, Middle England, alcoholism, Peter Mullen, and domestic abuse – it rises above all these elements to be something other than social realism, which is simply a touching, powerful drama, acted and directed exceptionally well.
Mullen plays Joseph, a tough, weathered, beaten, unemployed working class man with a violent temper that he can barely control. Despite his wife’s death (the Tyrannosaur of the film’s title) two years ago, Joseph is still struggling to come to terms with the mistakes he has made and the life he has lived. We first meet him as he kicks his dog to death after being thrown out of a bookmakers. Having confronted a gang of youths in his local boozer, he stumbles into a charity shop to hide, and meets Hannah, played by British comedy actress Olivia Coleman. Despite Joseph’s temper and meanness, Hannah shows him compassion and a bond is made. We then follow Hannah home and find her living with abusive husband, James (Eddie Marsan). Meanwhile, Joseph’s friend dies and he returns to Hannah’s shop to get a suit. James catches Hannah helping Joseph try his suit on and that night is abused and raped by James. Fleeing, she searches out Joseph and moves in with him, looking to him for help. As they become close, Joseph eventually accepting Hannah’s presence in his house, he makes a discovery that changes both his and our view of Hannah.
Initially the presence of Mullen fools the audience into thinking this film is about his character, and a journey of redemption for Joseph, in a similar vein to Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe (1998), in which Mullen also plays a character called Joe, with a troubled past. Gradually though, Tyrannosaur reveals itself as a true two-hander, giving equal weight to the story of Hannah, and indeed, by the end of the film it is her story that is the more powerful and her character that has been on the most transformative journey. It is by meeting Hannah that Joseph is changed, not by any ambition on his part to change.
Although it sounds like the plot of a social realist film – and in different hands it would have worked perfectly well as such – Considine and cinematographer Erik Wilson have crafted something much more cinematic than the traditional ‘kitchen sink’ drama. There are some beautiful shots and compositions used by Considine, like the shot of Joseph stumbling home from the pub on his own, silhouetted against the night sky, a shot that is later repeated with Joseph now accompanied by Hannah, cementing the bond that has formed between the two. Editing and music also work to give a broad, expansive feel, to what is essentially a low-budget domestic drama.
Peter Mullen is excellent in the sort of role that has become his bread and butter. There is no one better at portraying the pent-up anger and frustration of a working class man in Britain. Despite being set in Leeds, Mullen’s character is recognisably a product of Glasgow, a violent man, never permitted to show emotion or fear, but at the same time willing to fight for what he loves or cares about. The remorse for his dead dog after he has killed it is touching. A man who has made many mistakes and has many regrets, yet has no idea how to change. Marsden as James is quite terrifying, one minute loving and the next abusive, and gives a brief but terrifying insight into what goes on behind the closed doors of suburbia. The real revelation however is Colman, breaking free from supporting roles in British television comedy, her portrayal of Hannah is both touching, infuriating and powerful. Like Kathy Burke before her, Colman’s career, successful though it has been, may well have been a waste of talent, and one can only hope more demanding film roles follow on from Tyrannosaur, although, like Burke, it would not be a surprise if cinema struggles to find roles that fully exploit her potential.
Paddy Considine, who has revealed his preference to continue directing alongside acting, if not instead of acting, in the future, will not have a similar problem with finding material and opportunity in the future, and on the basis of his debut feature, there is much to look forward from him.
Film Rating: 4 out of 5.