Sunday, 9 October 2011

'Tyrannosaur' review:

Olivia Colman is lovely isn't she? I don't know her personally, but what I mean is she seems lovely on the telly. Turning up in TV sitcoms, as Sophie in 'Peep Show' or the vicar's wife in 'Rev', I am never in any doubt that her characters are basically good and beyond harmless, probably in part thanks to her big, friendly eyes. She certainly isn't someone you want to see beaten, raped and literally pissed on by Eddie Marsan in a grim, socially real, British movie about social isolation and domestic violence. But here we are.

I'm fairly sure, unless you're some sort of psychopath, there aren't any people you wish to see in that situation, but for me that goes doubly for lovely, smiling Olivia Colman. Which is one of the many reasons Paddy Considine's debut film as a writer and director, 'Tyrannosaur', can be pretty hard to take. Terrifically acted and deeply moving, but a tough watch indeed.

In it Colman is Hannah, a devout Christian woman who leaves her middle class house every day to work in a drab charity shop on the rough side of town - probably just to get away from her vicious husband James, played by an especially scary Marsan. James is possessive and spiteful and some of the things he does to Hannah defy belief, existing outside the realms of even your cruelest imagination. The violence in 'Tyrannosaur' may be less explicit and frequent than scenes in the similarly grim 'Kill List' (also from Warp Films), or even the recent thriller 'Drive', but it's far more hard-hitting because it's based in a deeply upsetting reality. And it somehow keeps getting worse, with the level of abuse suffered by Hannah still being revealed right up to the very end.

It is working at the charity shop that Hannah meets Joseph played by Peter Mullan, who is the sort of unpredictable, violent and all too recognisable old drunk that spends his days drinking in the corner of his local boozer, babbling incomprehensibly to himself. He is the opposite of harmless and when we first see Joseph he is kicking his dog to death in the street. After a chance encounter he befriends Hannah and we get to glimpse the underlying tragedy of this disturbing individual you'd be wise to cross the street to avoid. Both characters - and even the sickening James to an extent - are depicted with considerable compassion and deeply affecting empathy, with neither straying into caricature.

Mullan is for all intents and purposes the star of the film, which mostly takes his point of view - and he is excellent in it, with the sometime director (of 'The Magdalene Sisters' and recently 'Neds') able to portray this dog-kicking racist as rounded and human without undergoing some unlikely third act u-turn. With that in mind it seems unfair to single out Colman in this review, but there is nothing to be done about that because, for me at least, she is the heart of the movie and the key ingredient. It is really something that she can play this doe-eyed Christian victim without making her infuriating or wet in the least, and the more we care about Hannah the more wretched much of what you see will likely make you feel.

On this first showing, it would seem Considine is a very comfortable director of actors and an intelligent writer of characters. If he has displayed any similarity with his friend and frequent collaborator Shane Meadows, then it is in the fact that he has used his debut feature to take the side of elements of society most would not willingly gravitate toward, and he has done so with confidence and a keen eye for social detail.

'Tyrannosaur' is rated '18' by the BBFC and is on general release in the UK.

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