It is a brave man who casts the thoroughly lovable, Peep Show darling Olivia Coleman in a harrowing and disturbing role, in his directorial début. It is perhaps a braver man who spends time, professionally or otherwise, with the forever terrifying Peter Mullan. Paddy Considine, stalwart of gritty indie cinema and long time cohort of Shane Meadows (This Is England, Dead Man’s Shoes), is that man, unleashing a reptilian monster of a film on cinema goers this month.
The film explores the financially, morally and emotionally impoverished lives of two distinctly different characters. Weaving together two narratives through an apparently chance encounter, we are presented with a violent alcoholic’s attempts to overcome a deep-seated rage problem, perhaps brought on by his wife’s traumatic death, and the claustrophobic existence of a Christian woman caught up in an abusive marriage.
Considine manages this with consummate ease, managing to offset the frankly terrifying explosions of violence and a sickeningly graphic rape scene with moments of tenderness and quiet. The slow cinematography, akin to Meadows’ work in Dead Man’s Shoes, laden with lingering drawn-out shots, holds the audience captive in scenes which they might want to turn away from. Similarly, a serene and haunting soundtrack ticks throughout, breaking up the drama without ruining the narrative or the tension.
Quite simply, the film could not cope without these breathing spaces. Even cinephiles well tuned to this psychologically intense brand of urban realism would find the relentless trauma hard to bear without these redemptive moments, because this really is a tough watch. It is dense with brutality; opening and closing with a volcanic instance of animal cruelty, and rampaging through bar brawls, domestic violence and verbal abuse. Perhaps the most painful though, is the dichotomy that underpins the plot. We may expect an alcoholic Glaswegian widower living on a Leeds council estate in near poverty to behave in this cruel and temperamental way; but Coleman’s character is a middle class, Christian charity worker. In a way, her hardship is doubly worse for its seeming out of place, as even Mullan’s Joseph highlights.
Coleman as Hannah is a revelation, convincingly playing the downtrodden and repressed middle-aged wife, and her ability to bear the undue punishment dished out by both husband and Joseph makes the film all the more gut-wrenching. With its final twist, we see Hannah beaten and defeated, kneeling in tears and asking God for help. A long close-up on Mullan as she begs off-screen maintains this sense of helpless isolation, but both characters are redeemed in a touching final sequence.
For all it’s artistic value and directorial skill, a pertinent question is asked by this film, and others like it. This is art cinema at its finest certainly, but that tends to bring a particular audience, one which is likely already aware of this sort of reality, but which is happily not a part of it. There is a danger that these fine and important works will be consumed only by an educated elite who anthropologically examine these distant lives, or worse, sneer at people less fortunate than themselves. It is vital that a film such as Tyrannosaur is seen by a varied audience, as it deserves to be, or it may become a museum piece like its namesake; an extinct curiosity wondered at from comfortable distance.