Going by the opening scene of Tyrannosaur, the debut directorial feature of actor Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes, Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum), in which its main character beats his beloved dog to death, it would be all too easy to dismiss it as yet another example of miserablist kitchen sink drama that British cinema so often produces. After Joseph (Peter Mullan) gets drunk and angry, he kicks his dog and breaks his ribs. It’s devastating for Joseph, and after yet another outburst in a pub he runs into a charity shop run by Hannah (Olivia Colman) and begins to cry when she offers to pray for him.
These scenes suggest it would be easy to make snap judgements about these characters and their situation, but one of the great strengths of Considine’s film is that it fills in the blanks, turning these seemingly easy to define characters into real people. As they get closer and become friends, the broadly drawn ideas that they were at the start fade away to reveal two essentially broken people (he has rage issues, she is in an abusive relationship) who gradually realise that they need each other to become better people, even if the path to becoming a better person will be very difficult indeed.
Nowhere is this broad approach truer than in the case of Hannah’s husband, James (Eddie Marsan), who is introduced when he comes home, discovers Hannah asleep on their sofa, and then pisses on her. It’s about as clear a statement of intent as it is possible to make; he is a despicable, awful human being. However, rather than just have him be overtly brutal and cruel to Hannah, the film takes time to depict the more insidious ways that he maintains control over her; the false contrition, the eerie smile and the declarations of love. Whilst James is the undoubted villain of the piece, he is a nuanced villain, and the film does a wonderful job of illustrating the pitiable qualities that would compel someone like Hannah stay with him.
That nuance and richness are what make Tyrannosaur stand apart from so much of British cinema, and which ultimately make it feel fresh despite the overly familiar territory it treads in its themes and setting. Unlike Nil By Mouth or NEDS, Considine’s film has a lightness of touch to it that, rather than undermining the darkness of its central storyline, adds much needed contrast. There are several scenes in the film that are genuinely hilarious and they give the film a more honest feeling than the unrelentingly bleak fare to which it will inevitably be compared.
The only serious problem with Tyrannosaur is that the scenes between Colman and Mullan are fantastic, but they are so good that they overshadow the scenes they have with the other actors (with the exception of Marsan) which feel airless in comparison. Aside from that, Tyrannosaur is an assured debut with great performances, a compelling story and moments that are really devastating.
Tyrannosaur is showing in cinemas from October 7.
words Edwin Davies