Paddy Considine’s directorial debut comes in the form of Tyrannosaur, an ‘extension’ of his BAFTA winning short Dog Altogether from 2007. Establishing himself as an actor with a formidable screen presence in the likes of Dead Man Shoes and Submarine, he follows in the footsteps of other British thespians and takes his position in the directing chair. Shown at the Sundance Festival, the film was met with critical appraisal and won a ‘Special Jury Prize’, as well as a ‘Directing Award’. Tyrannosaur is a powerful debut from Considine that is beautifully shot, magnificently acted and leaves an intense lasting impression.
Tyrannosaur follows Joseph (Peter Mullan), an intimidating and lonely man who is plagued by violence and an uncontrollable rage. However redemption appears in the form of Christian charity-shop worker, Hannah (Olivia Colman). After a shaky and offensive start, the two develop a friendship that soon reveals that Hannah is hiding her own secrets, which are having a devastating effect on both their lives. Considine’s story is a stern experience that, while it has its lighter moments, is a tough watch. Domestic abuse, alcoholism and animal cruelty produce a film with raw emotional power and shocking context. There’s a strong essence of social commentary on how middle-class society hides its problems within the confinements of well-furnished exteriors, while the working class live in a landscape that is all too familiar to misfortune. While many will spot clichéd characters and plot threads from other social dramas, the story is simply representative of society’s hidden and harsh realities.
However, while Tyrannosaur’s plot deals with social anguish, its definitely a character-driven film and this is where it really shines. Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman return to their respective roles from Dog Altogether and are both stellar in a story that requires strong and realistic characters. Mullan (My Name Is Joe) manages to perfectly represent Joseph’s descent into rage-induced self-destruction with a simple pause and stare. But even after smashing windows and abusing dogs, there’s an empathy towards the weathered character as he tries to gain a sense of humanity and self-control on his life. Olivia Colman breaks away from her usual comedic casting (Peep Show) and puts in a performance that will hopefully result in a BAFTA nomination. There’s a warmness to her smile, and an angelic tone to her voice when Joseph storms into her shop. However as we discover through the course of the film, there’s a fragility and helplessness to her which a harrowing breakdown scene perfectly emulates.
Considine’s work with director and close friend Shane Meadows (This Is England and Somer’s Town) is clear through the story’s grisly drama, but also the cinematic styling. Long camera shots and close-ups of characters’ tired and damaged expressions give a detailed sense of a setting devoid of serenity and euphoria. There’s an almost poetic portrayal of the drab housing estates of Leeds with cloudy greys, inky blacks and the use of shadows. Tyrannosaur also has a distinct use of silence which is perfectly managed throughout the film allowing further tension and intensity to each scene as characters dramatically change from muted personalities to fiery brutes. It’s this oscillation between despondency and ferociousness that adds an unpredictability to each confrontation. Meanwhile the haunting acoustic guitar soundtrack mirrors the melancholy visual atmosphere, adding further emotion.
Tyrannosaur is thought-provoking, shocking yet beautiful. Paddy Considine’s excellent writing and direction creates a rawness and maliciousness to the world where the distressed characters exist. Terrific performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman carry the film’s powerful conviction and will hopefully be rewarded through BAFTA nominations. It’s a strong and confident directorial debut by Considine, who has a prosperous future both as an actor and now as a director.