Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Tyrannosaur (2011)

Image: StudioCanal UK

Paddy Considine is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest actors, having delivered stellar turns in films as diverse as Dead Man’s Shoes, Submarine, and Hot Fuzz. He’s stepped behind the camera for Tyrannosaur, his first film as a writer/director.

Joseph (Peter Mullan) is an angry, violent man with a short fuse. When he meets charity shop worker Hannah (Olivia Colman), he cruelly scorns her attempts at kindness. However, when he returns to apologise he discovers that Hannah’s life is far from comfortable. She suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her husband James (Eddie Marsan). 

Considine’s debut (springing from his short Dog Altogether) certainly shows no sign of beginner’s nerves as he handles the difficult subject matter with a remarkably steady hand. Tyrannosaur is, for the most part, as bleak as you might have feared. It starts as it means to go on, with a run of scenes showing Joseph’s ferocious temper. The appearance of Hannah, with her Christian kindness, looks like it might offer a bit of respite. However, after Joseph taunts Hannah for channelling her middle-class guilt and sorrow at having no children into running a charity shop and praying for the less fortunate, we see just how bad her situation is. 

As you might expect from an actor-turned-director, Tyrannosaur is something of an actor’s showcase. Mullan (Children of Men, Session 9) is often called on to play characters that have a lot of darkness lurking under the surface and there’s a very good reason for that: he’s very good at it. Interestingly his performance starts with Joseph’s rage and bitterness, and he slowly softens as the film goes on. He recognises that he is a bad man, but he starts to realise that Hannah is someone he can do something good for, and Mullan brings the character to life, with all his contradictions. 

But it’s Colman, who’s probably best known for playing Sophie in sitcom Peep Show, whose performance drives the film. Hannah’s such a tragic figure: a good-natured, good-intentioned woman trapped in a horrific marriage. But there is strength to Hannah, a fierce resilience that her meetings with Joseph start to bring to the surface. There are also layers to her relationship with James. As played by the ever-excellent Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, Heartless), James is both pathetic and terrifying, violent one moment and pleading for forgiveness the next.

Considine thankfully decides to add a little warmth, with a few nicely observed moments of humour and the alcohol and grief fuelled companionship of a wake letting a little light into the film. However, for the most part, Tyrannosaur goes for the gut. The ending is a little disappointing, but it’s a heartfelt, brutal debut that gives Mullan and Colman the chance to shine.

Verdict: Brutally tough and undeniably grim, but the carefully characterised and stunningly performed Tyrannosaur is worth the effort. 

4/5

JH

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