25 November 2011


Depending on your point of view, I've either talked about two really depressing films this week, or just one. How better to round out the week, as we hurtle towards the general jollity of the nationally anointed Christmas movie month, than with a less-than-cheerful slice of British social realism, and the directorial debut from Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur. To paraphrase the rear-view mirror from Jurassic Park, the film may contain less dinosaurs that it would appear.

While the metaphorical pre-historic beasty of the title is revealed in the dialogue, one could argue that it represents Joseph, a self-destructive grouch who lives alone and is constantly given to misdirected acts of rage and violence. After one such act, he meets Hannah, a kind but downtrodden Christian woman, while hiding behind a clothes rack in her charity shop. The expected clash of personalities is largely more of a meeting of hearts and minds, as Hannah tries to escape the realities of her abusive marriage.

My relationship with so-called kitchen-sink dramas on the big screen is not as polarised as the whole picture might seem. Personally, I enjoy social realism, provided that it's not realistic in a way that pertains to me. If Tyrannosaur were set in Middlesbrough, for example, I don't know that it would be enough of a counter-cultural experience for me to enjoy it as fully as someone who didn't live in my hometown. I can enjoy, or at least admire films that portray social reality, if not my own social reality, as escapist fare on some level or another. I don't consider the social realism picture to be the type of film I'd like to see every week at the cinema.

With this in mind, Tyrannosaur represents a good, irregular dose of counter-culture, which is just as compelling as it is disturbing. Having collaborated with Shane Meadows in the past, Paddy Considine has picked up certain things for his shift behind the camera, and as a director, he adds to the ever-increasing pile of stunning debut features from British directors in 2011. His script is equally as memorable, making no concessions to an audience who might be troubled by its content, or its characters' actions. The interviews he has given on the press tour really give context to just how this film is personal to him.

But that's for you to look up, and the business of this post is to talk about how the film stands upon viewing it. Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman are the film's most obvious assets, giving precisely the kind of performances that will be lauded at British awards ceremonies, but ignored at the Oscars. In particular, I would think that Colman not receiving Best Actress at the BAFTAs in February would be a major upset. Her performance near enough broke my heart.

I would even argue that the film is more about Colman's Hannah than about Mullan's Joseph. The film centres around Joseph, of course, and we ultimately come back to how the devout Hannah's contradictions affect him, but Colman's is one of those astonishing, attention-grabbing performances that steals a whole movie. That's quite a feat, considering how powerful Mullan is when he's on form. He's gruff and violent, but also desperately sad and oddly gentle, for a man who kicks his dog to death, the first time we see him.

But it's with Colman that our sympathies ultimately lie. If Joseph's introduction is shocking, the introduction of Hannah's husband, James, as he arrives home from work and pisses on her while she's asleep, is downright despicable. Marsan is becoming an old hand in roles like these, but James' abuse of Hannah really makes your skin crawl. So, as you can guess, moments of levity are few and far between, but Ned Dennehy and Sally Carman shine through, particularly in a scene that takes place at a wake. Only a film so forcefully unorthodox and unpredictable could find its brightest moments in the midst of grief.

Tyrannosaur is capital-H Harrowing, with a succession of great performances that make it worth taking the chance if you're really not sure that this is your kind of film. It succeeds in being cinematic on far more than merely representing difficult topics in such a way that wouldn't have a place on television, and it presents Considine as an already formidable filmmaker. Olivia Colman dispels all memories of "Sophie off Peep Show" and holds her own even against an actor as grizzled and fearsome as Peter Mullan. Their unconventional romance won't appeal to everyone, especially as it feels so honest and personal as to make you flinch away from some private matter, while still enthralling its audience.

Tyrannosaur is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 6th 2012.
If you've seen Tyrannosaur, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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