Deborah Ross

Dare to care

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Tyrannosaur is very much in the British working-class miserablist tradition in the sense that it is full of masculine fury and the women who take the brunt of it, and if this does not sound an attractive proposition, it’s because it isn’t, and never is, but, as far as these unattractive propositions go, this is powerfully affecting. I would also add that if, in the upcoming months, the actress Olivia Colman does not win every award going for her performance as a nice Christian lady with something to hide, I will be surprised, stunned, amazed, astonished and incredulous. I will also be dumbfounded, and flabbergasted, and will eat my hat, but not my thesaurus which, over the years, has proved handy, convenient and opportune.

This is the writing and directorial debut of Paddy Considine (the actor who is otherwise best known as Shane Meadows’s leading man) and although this is set in Leeds it is, he has said, an attempt to understand his own particular upbringing on a council estate in Burton-on-Trent. I have no reference points when it comes to films like this — the most brutal thing I was ever subjected to as a child was being made to carry on at piano long after it was evident I had no talent — but this entirely brings you into its world, as a good film should, and does so straight out of the gate, albeit shockingly.

It opens with a man leaving a pub and, in a drunken rage, kicking his own dog to death. I know; it’s vile. It’s something you don’t want to see. Why bother? Because, at the same time, you are interested in this: how is the film going to find the humanity in this character, as we know it must?  How are we going to be made to care about him?  How?

The man is Joseph (Peter Mullan), a widower and alcoholic who simmers in his own rage and is given to eruptions of violence, with or without provocation. He just cannot stop himself. He’s damaged goods, to put it mildly, but must be self-aware at some level, as one morning he finds himself having a bit of a nervous breakdown in a charity shop, crouching and sobbing among the rails of old clothes. He is discovered by Hannah (Colman), the God-fearing Christian who works there, whom he initially derides as a goody-goody who lives a semi-detached, gravel-drived, double-garaged kind of life, and therefore cannot possibly understand him.

She, though, has a secret: she is being abused at home by her husband (Eddie Marsan) who subjects her to the most unbelievable cruelty, both physically and mentally. Eventually, she seeks solace and protection from Joseph, who may or may not have the ability to give her what she most needs. He certainly questions his own ability. He could not even look after his own dog.

These characters get no back stories. We don’t know why Joseph feels so frustrated and impotent. We don’t know why Hannah married the man she did. But the writing and direction are so sure and clear-eyed it doesn’t matter; the characters arrive fully realised, as do the performances. Although Mullan and Marsan are terrific, as they always are, Colman is a genuine revelation. Mostly known for her comedy work in TV shows like Peep Show and Rev, she is remarkable and unforgettably so.

Usually, I don’t remember much about films. When people ask me what’s worth seeing I often just go embarrassingly blank. I can see something in the morning and remember little of it by the afternoon. The images slip away, as they do when you wake from a dream, but I think I will always retain certain images from this. There is one particular scene — in which her husband is begging her forgiveness as these men, so I’m led to understand, often do — that I don’t think I’ll ever get out of my head. Her lips mouth one thing as her face, with just a simple flicker, says another, and it is done with absolute subtlety, while conveying absolute despair.  It’s extraordinary, yet always truthful, or at least it seems so.

In some ways much about this film is, I suppose, familiar. The ground has been covered before as in, say, Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth or Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe. There is nothing new, either, in a love story involving two lonely, broken souls who somehow find and mend each other. Plus the ending is predictably redemptive, even if you don’t see one particular twist coming. But Considine dares you to carry on watching, and dares you to care, and pulls it off. This is an excellent film that is also, I should add, first-rate, outstanding, admirable, estimable, top-class and superior.  Hats? Never understood the point of them.