Watching Tyrannosaur, you can’t help comparing it to both Gran Torino and Nil By Mouth. Especially the latter. Gary Oldman’s name did indeed pop up in the credits because Considine wrote Dog Altogether, the Bafta-winning short on which Tyrannosaur is based, while working with Oldman, who offered him advice on the scripts for both the original film and this expansion of it. Just like Kathy Burke in Oldman’s Nil By Mouth, Olivia Coleman (Hannah) comes from a comedic background, having played Sophie in Peep Show.
Tyrannosaur is Paddy Considine’s first feature film, a follow-up from Dog Altogether, which also starred Peter Mullan. In a Q & A after the screening, he candidly told how the main character was based on his father. How he’d felt his mother’s faith was a kind of weakness, something that made him hate God and religion. To this day he still doesn’t see religion as a strength. Making Tyrannosaur was very cathartic for him, that and the fact he was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s last year. Instead of freaking him out, suddenly his behaviour made sense and the diagnosis allowed him to accept the way he is, rather than being overwhelmed by it or trying to change himself in order to be more socially acceptable.
It would be only too easy to sneeringly dismiss Tyrannosaur as poverty porn for the Guardian-reading middle classes, indeed it was conveniently shot in Leeds, the birthplace of British kitchen-sink drama. But. I defy anyone not to be deeply moved by it. Our little group couldn’t stop discussing it for days, this film stays with you, it’s uncomfortable, makes you realise how complicated humans are. We all know a Hannah, a Joseph and a James – we might even have aspects of their character traits ourselves. More than anything Tyrannosaur is characterised by subtlety, despite the subject matter, the violence and the deeply abusive behaviour of Hannah’s husband James. When Hannah goes to Joseph’s house for the first time, she (and the audience) is of course expecting squalor. Instead it’s neat as a pin, something Hannah registers with a mere flick of the eyelid. A lot of the praise for this film could justly be laid at Olivia Coleman’s feet – she is utterly sublime and believable as Hannah.
In the Q & A, Considine explained that he shoots with just the one camera, as chronologically as possible, with as few takes as is needed. When doing the ‘heavy scenes’ a maximum of two takes. He prefers a natural way of working, wants his actors to block the scenes and feel it out, to build on little notes. He asks himself, does a written scene want to be in the film? And was happy to lose any he didn’t feel were neccessary, despite the fact they felt pivotal at the time of writing the script.
Paddy Considine was adamant he wanted a ‘proper movie’ despite the comparatively low budget (£750,000) and he certainly got that and more. A profound and brilliant film with a powerful soul.
Tyrannosaur is out DVD, Blu-Ray and EST on 6th February 2012
Words by Anna Bang
Tagsanna bang, Bafta, Dog Altogether, Gary Oldman, Kathy Burke, Olivia Colman, Paddy Considine, Peter Mullan,