Taking the phrase ‘grim up north’ to a whole new level, Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur does not shy away from portraying the darkest of realities, with a plot driven by rage and inhumanity.
Peter Mullan, who we last saw playing a violent alcoholic in his 2010 film, Neds, takes on the similar role of Joseph. This time around he’s an angry, perhaps lonely, widower. His often uncontrollable rage is tinged with a sense of bitterness and resentment, and prone to surfacing whether he be nursing a pint or wielding a baseball bat. Mullan presents a character whose actions are far from justifiable, and yet his attacks on people, objects and even animals often seem to be as much an act of self-destruction as they are of harm to those upon whom they are inflicted.
Mullan stars opposite Olivia Coleman who, perhaps until now, will have been best known for her role as Sophie Chapman in Channel 4’s Peep Show. Tyrannosaur sees her demonstrate her extraordinary ability as a film actress by taking on the role of Hannah, a middle class charity-shop worker, privately suffering unimaginable domestic violence at the hands of her husband, played with terrifying malice by Eddie Marsan.
Joseph initially dismisses Hannah’s compassion and offers of prayer, and you don’t have to be an angry alcoholic to sympathise. However, as their encounters become more regular, he begins to see this apparently content and composed woman unravel, living in much more tragic circumstances than even he might have expected.
The key to this gripping depiction of a rather bleak suburbia lies largely in complexity of Considine’s characters. Born out of his 2007 acclaimed short film, Dog Altogether, the actor-turned-director has expanded upon Joseph and Hannah, in order to evoke a sense of cinematic truth which tends to be almost exclusively reserved for films from the likes of Alan Clarke, and perhaps more recently, Considine’s regular collaborator, Shane Meadows. Yes, we see Joseph antagonising those who do not deserve it, and acting cruelly towards many who have not provoked him, but we also witness the more tender moments which he shares with his dying friend, the surprisingly protective friendship which he has with a young neighbour, and even his own vulnerability as an ageing man.
In lifting the veil on Hannah’s happy charade, Tyrannosaur reveals a world just as damaged by alcohol dependence and hidden humiliation. The setting for this tale is too destitute for it to be a love story; instead it is a much more touching depiction of the way lost souls often gravitate towards each other. Granted, there is all the grey scenery and tensed fists that you might expect, but the sense of misery – which is more-or-less mandatory when dealing with such brutal subject matter – is permeated with unlikely moments of tenderness and even humour.
Those who missed the cinematic release of Tyrannosaur may have escaped seeing this harrowing tale blown up larger than life, but worry not – this is a film which is just as affecting watched on a smaller screen. With incredibly powerful performances from both Mullan and Coleman, Considine’s disturbing directorial début feature is nothing short of remarkable.
Tyrannosaur is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from 6th February 2012.