Within minutes of Tyrannosaur beginning, Joseph (Peter Mullen) has assaulted a teenager from behind in a dingy drinking hole, whispered racist obscenities in a post office, withered pathetically under a retort from the cashier, smashed the window, drunkenly hurled insults at the sky and blindly kicked his own dog to death in an alley. Paddy Considine is asking a lot to demand sympathy for this lost soul of a protagonist in his directorial debut. Going down the same route as his fellow thespians, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, took when they stepped behind the camera for the first time (The War Room and Nil by Mouth, respectively) Considine’s film is a sinkhole estate nightmare of a piece, a dystopian vision of Britain that makes the future in Clockwork Orange a more appealing option. Unlike Roth and Oldman however, Considine hasn’t hired Ray Winstone to beat up the wives and rape the daughters. Winstone has always had a cartoonish, albeit terrifying, larger than life nature about him, possiby because he is loudly amicable in real life. His huge frame and broad shoulders are menacing, his accent full of violence. Considine here opts for Peter Mullen, an average sized, balding scotsman of an actor. His relatively diminutive stature and unremarkable appearance make Joseph more shocking during his drunken outbursts and his weakness more plausable and painful as he shrinks from confrontations weighted against him.
Olivia Coleman has been quietly impressive in television dramas and comedies for a few years now, so her quivering, repressed performance as Hannah here comes not as a revelation but certainly a progression. Hannah is a Christian, possibly out of desperation, running a charity shop on Joseph’s estate. Hannah lives up town in a more plush neighbourhood with her husband James. James (Eddie Marsan) is a problem. First seen urinating on his sleeping wife, he progresses to beating and rape, all hidden behind a facade of Christianity and good standing in the community. So we have our dynamic. Alcoholic Joseph must save abused Hannah from her husband and Hannah must save Joseph from himself. These goals are achieved with varying degrees of success.
Considine, a fine actor himself, seems to understand Mullen, Coleman and Marsan, allowing them plenty of camera time and close ups to establish themselves. He resists trying any flashy shots or techniques (top down, or whooshing the camera through things should rarely be attempted in these kind of films and anyway scream “Look at me! Look at me! I’m directing!”) that would bring the audience out of the drama. Considine, a regular collaborator with Shane Meadows, plainly tells the story and allows empathy to build rather than forcing it, making it untrue. The soundtrack is mournful and heartfelt and the title thumpingly evocative, although that’s ruined when it’s meaning is revealed. Some cliches die hard. A funeral sequence where Hannah is allowed to see these down in the dirt losers at their lovable and caring best comes close to stinking up the show and the ending is a flurry of tying up loose ends with a voiceover but by that point the story has been sold and more importantly bought so forgiveness is easy to find.
There is always a risk of a kind of aquarium like, middle class snobbery when portraying the darkest, most poverty stricken reaches of broken Britain (thanks Mr.Cameron). A risk of patronising a situation rarely experienced. It’s hard to know what a person living on a sink estate would make of Tyrannosaur, maybe it is assumed that those kind of people (add a snort of derision if you like) don’t watch films like this (What would a terrorirst say about an episode of 24? Although that’s seriously over egging the pudding). Considine has fortunately avoided such traps with his obvious love for his characters and an open sympathy for their plight. His actor friendly directing rounds out Joseph and Hannah and even James into living, breathing examples of the rights and wrongs that exist uneasily beside each other at every level of modern, British society.