Article/ Tyrannosaur: A History of Violence

Paddy Considine’s Sundance award-winning feature debut is a powerful account of abuse and the search for redemption

By Amy Raphael

As an actor Paddy Considine has rarely been less than captivating. He is certainly no stranger to unsettling violence on screen, whether it be in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes or Channel 4’s Yorkshire noir series Red Riding. His directorial debut is equally shocking, but Tyrannosaur is also brave and, at times, brilliant. It places Considine firmly alongside other British actors who have made equally bold debuts, from Gary Oldman (Nil by Mouth) and Peter Mullan (Orphans) to Tim Roth (The War Zone) and Samantha Morton (The Unloved).

Considine’s film started life as a 2007 short. Dog Altogether was shot in Glasgow and starred Peter Mullan as an angry and sad man on the verge of losing control, and Olivia Colman as a kind charity shop worker who offers him compassion. Tyrannosaur keeps Mullan and Colman at the centre of the action but moves the story to Leeds. The change of location matters little, for the film is an unflinching look at two sides of Britain and the preconceptions we have about both.

From the opening scene, in which he brutally kicks his dog to death in a drunken rage, Mullan’s character, Joseph, appears to be a lost cause. He lives alone in his clean but sparse council house and finds it almost impossible to relate to anyone. Colman’s Hannah, by contrast, is a Christian who lives on a nice middle-class estate in another part of town. She is a little scared of Joseph when he turns up at her shop to hide amongst the musty old clothes – his endless provocations result in him taking a beating from a group of young men and being forced to run for his life – but listens calmly as he insults her smug middle-classness.

The truth, of course, is never as it seems. Joseph’s life might outwardly appear to be on a downward spiral, but it is Hannah who has arguably been dealt the harsher hand. At home and behind closed doors, her husband (a quietly terrifying Eddie Marsan) is the disturbed and merciless perpertrator of verbal and physical abuse. That Hannah, despite her own circumstances, is still able to be empathetic to Joseph is all the more moving.

Considine points out that “we are so indulged in our own lives that we fail to think for one second that the woman who serves you in the bank could be in living hell”. And it is partly these assumptions that make Tyrannosaur so memorable. It is tough at times, but the film also features moments of humour and the ending offers the possibility of redemption.

Considine, who says he may prefer to pursue a career in directing rather than acting, is confident enough of his material never to play safe and Mullan, whose own films are uncompromising, gives a committed performance. But is it Colman who stands out. Previously known as a comedy actor in Peep Show and Rev, her performance in Tyrannosaur quite literally takes your breath away.

With thanks to Curzon Cinemas

Tyrannosaur screens at Cornerhouse with a special preview plus Q&A with director Paddy Considine on Tue 4 October 18:20. On general release from Fri 7 October