Review: Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine’s ferocious feature film debut as writer-director sees astonishing performances from actors Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman beat at the centre of its angry heart.

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Paddy Considine writes and directs his first feature film Tyrannosaur based on his own BAFTA-winning short Dog Altogether. The film, built from Considine’s experiences growing up on a council estate in the North of England, tells the story of Joseph (Peter Mullan), a man with a ferocious temper who undergoes a life change when he accidentally kills his dog in a fit of rage. Meeting Hannah (Olivia Colman) at a local charity shop, they strike up an unlikely friendship thanks to Hannah’s kindly Christian ways. But while Joseph’s problems are manifested outwardly by his inherent anger, Hannah’s seemingly idyllic life is a front that hides a deeply unhappy marriage. The friendship, although beneficial for both, threatens to unhinge Joseph who fears he might revert back to his old ways.

If Tyrannosaur was made by a seasoned director with twenty films on his or her curriculum vitae, the sheer quality and skill displayed in dramatic construction, character and style would come as little surprise. That the film is Considine’s first as writer/director makes the brilliance of Tyrannosaur even more astonishing. This is accomplished filmmaking by a filmmaker who, while having no previous feature film writing or directing credits, has been around the scene long enough to pick up a few pointers. Considine’s either been taking notes or is blessed with a great memory and the ability to absorb the technical skills of others. Tyrannosaur might be the creative endeavour of an experienced actor but it shows in abundance the qualities of a man who knows his medium through and through.

“Peter Mullan’s brutal temper bubbles and boils beneath the chiselled lines of a weathered face that has a thousand stories to tell.”

What isn’t surprising is how Considine coaxes note-perfect performances from his actors. Having delivered brilliant turns in such British films as A Room For Romeo Brass, 24 Hour Party People, Submarine and Dead Man’s Shoes, Considine not only knows what he wants from a performance but he has the inherent knowledge of how to articulate that to actors. It is often the case that film’s made by actors benefit from strong performances because the director-actor relationship is in-built. In Tyrannosaur, both Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman are revelations. Mullan is perfect in the role he first played in the short film Tyrannosaur is based on. His brutal temper bubbles and boils beneath the chiselled lines of a weathered face that has a thousand stories to tell. Colman is arguably even better – she displays the wholesome Christian ways of Hannah with reserved timidity that becomes an inward defiance in the face of her abusive husband. Colman is exceptionally strong in dealing with several very powerful scenes – the quietly affecting scene when she fakes sleep while her husband urinates on her is in stark contrast to the pounding nightclub music underlining her terrified phone calls home begging the violence to stop. It is testament to her skill as an actress and Considine’s authentic and moving construction of domestic drama.

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Perhaps Tyrannosaur’s real power lies in its sense of realism. Although not autobiographical, Considine bases the story on his own experiences living on a council estate. Everything from the on-location shooting (most of which was filmed in Leeds, West Yorkshire), the unobtrusive camerawork (that has the sparseness of a documentary film crew) and monotonous colour scheme, to class divides, regional colloquialism, and the tediousness of domesticity, the writer/director effortlessly portrays modern northern life with teeth ready to bite and not let go.

“Considine mixes the genuinely painful existences of his characters with a moving tribute to the influence of friendship and togetherness, especially when found in unlikely places.”

Yet crucially, Considine mixes the genuinely painful existences of his characters with a moving tribute to the influence of friendship and togetherness, especially when found in unlikely places. That the film can still uplift despite its characters’ predicaments is testament to the shimmering streak of optimism Considine discovers in Joseph and Hannah when their individual troubles are muted slightly by their collective endeavours. We may meet them on a downward spiral that gets decidedly more bleak but the hope that a corner can be turned is ever-present.

Confident but not over confident, downbeat but not depressing, regionally authentic but with universal appeal, Tyrannosaur is an assured British film from a talented creative mind whose work would not look out of place next to the films of British social-drama kings Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Paddy Considine
Written by: Paddy Considine
Starring: Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman
Released: 2011 / Genre: Drama / Country: UK / IMDB

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. dave Reply

    Glad you gave it 5 stars,the performances from everyone in this film are just phenomenal, Coleman should of been nominated for every award going she just blew me away in the film

  2. Colin Reply

    Good man. Best British film of last year, for me.

  3. Pete Reply

    Wow can’t wait, have to maintain sensible expectations. Going to a special screening of this with Considine Q&A on Tuesday evening.

  4. Dan Reply

    @Dave: that was my reaction too. I didn’t realise Colman was capable of such a performance.

    @Colin: glad we agree on the quality of this one.

    @Pete: fantastic, I hope to hear about that q and a.

  5. Amy Reply

    Great review, really looking forward to seeing this one even though it promises to be very gritty

  6. Adam from 3guys1movie.com Reply

    Wow sounds like you really dug this film. I have it on my must watch list but have not seen it yet. How bad is that scene in the beginning where he kills his dog? I am a bit aprehensive about that scene after hearing so much about it.
    I also did not realize this was a first time director, Nice post Dan

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