Having made her name largely through comedy, it’s interesting to see Olivia Colman try serious in this gritty urban drama. Also taking an unfamiliar role in proceedings is Paddy Considine, who makes his debut appearance behind the camera as director and writer.
Colman plays Hannah, a Christian charity-shop worker whose mild-mannered, good-Samaritan demeanour belies the secret violence she suffers at the hands of her husband James (Eddie Marsan). Peter Mullan is Joseph, the vicious and aggressive misanthrope who stumbles into her shop looking for refuge, and finds himself drawn into a powerful and touching friendship. As the domestic violence perpetrated against Hannah worsens, Joseph gradually becomes her only protector – and in doing so, begins to question his own life of rage and self-destruction.
Tyrannosaur, a project developed from Considine’s 2007 short Dog Altogether, is a film drenched in anger. From the first scene, in which Joseph delivers his beloved dog a fatal kick in the ribs, to the tragic conclusion, we’re thrown into a disturbing filmscape where violence is everywhere. Some of it is random and senseless, like Joseph’s pub attack on three snooker-playing teenagers; and some of it is intimate and calculated, like James’ private and repeated abuse of Hannah.
The disparity between both is made clear to us: Joseph’s poverty-stricken, council-estate environment jars with the Barratt home and flash car of Hannah’s materially comfortable middle-class existence. “So this is your world,” Hannah remarks when Joseph takes her to a grotty, run-down old pub. But the real difference between them – that one inflicts violence while the other suffers from it – is far more significant. As they grow closer this distinction becomes less clear, giving rise to truly bittersweet drama.
Some of the scenes may be hard to take – within the first fifteen minutes we’re forced to watch while James urinates on to Hannah’s face, a moment of sickening degradation. But Considine is careful never to make the action lurid, or over-the-top; instead, thanks to subtle dialogue and quietly convincing performances, we’re encouraged to recognise just how depressingly realistic Hannah’s marriage is.
It’s no surprise that Mullan – having forged an entire career out of bleak urban dramas – excels here. He gets the balance of Joseph just right, resisting the temptation to tip over into psychopath territory. As a result, even the most hardened viewer ends up rooting for him. Colman, however, is a revelation.
Her performance is so compelling, and so carefully nuanced, that it’s impossible to think of her as that sharp-witted funnygirl of British sitcoms. The terrible intimacy of her scenes with Marsden are truly frightening, thanks to the hard work put in by both actors. As James, Marsden isn’t physically imposing and he doesn’t look all that thuggish – but he’s got the air of menace down pat. It’s a terrifying performance, perhaps all the more so for the ordinariness of his appearance. Also worth mentioning is Ned Dennehy, playing Joseph’s wild-eyed, racial-hate-spouting pub friend Tommy. It’s a small, not particularly significant role, but Dennehy absolutely steals the scenes he’s in. It’s a shame that his part couldn’t have been made bigger; however distasteful his character may be, when he’s onscreen you can’t quite manage to take your eyes off him.
Tyrannosaur may well be described as grim, dark, depressing; but Considine skilfully engineers several moments of real warmth and even humour in the film. Hannah and Joseph are there to bring out the best in each other, and that it works well is largely down to the sweet, gentle chemistry between Colman and Mullan. In many ways, it’s a classic love story in which we get to see the romance blossom between our two heroic leads. That this love story thrives in a world filled with anger, rage and violence, without ever compromising on its admirable commitment to realism, is testament to Considine’s sensitive and thoughtful handling of the material. A touching, thought-provoking and ultimately necessary piece of cinema.
Tyrannosaur is in cinemas from 7th October.
Director: Paddy Considine
Stars: Olivia Colman, Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan
Runtime: 91 minutes