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Tyrannosaur: A powerful allegory of friendship and abuse

This article is over 12 years, 6 months old
Sally Campbell writes on Tyrannosaur, actor Paddy Considine’s debut film as director
Issue 2273
Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan star in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur
Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan star in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur

I thought I knew what was coming with this film—social realism, despair, small people crushed by big forces. Something in the vein of Ken Loach or Shane Meadows. But Tyrannosaur is actually something quite different.

In the grim first scene we meet Joseph, a foul-mouthed, violent and racist drunk. Played by Peter Mullan, best known for the title role in Loach’s My Name Is Joe, he brings charisma to the role despite its misanthropy.

Joseph is careering along a path to destruction, grasping and lashing out at those around him in a bid to drag them down with him.

When his violent behaviour catches up with him, Joseph takes refuge in a charity shop. Rather than kicking him out or calling the police, Hannah, the Christian volunteer, kneels down beside him and prays for him.

This small act is the beginning of a tentative friendship. Joseph needs someone to give him a second chance. But it soon becomes clear that Hannah is in even more urgent need of help than he is.

Hannah is played with astounding subtlety and strength by Olivia Colman, an actor better known for comedy work such as her role as Sophie in Peep Show.

In Tyrannosaur she puts in an absolutely heartbreaking performance as a middle class woman secretly suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her husband.

He comes home and ritually humiliates, beats and rapes her. But she feels she cannot tell her family because they would never believe it of him.

Eventually Joseph realises what is happening to Hannah. Again I thought I knew what was coming—but I was wrong once more.


The specific beauty of this film is that it isn’t “about” domestic violence or alcoholism. It is about how and why people reach out to each other.

Tyrannosaur is not “gritty realism”. Rather it has an allegorical power that comes through its fairytale details—the act of Christian charity in the Christian charity shop, Joseph living at the bottom of a hill with Hannah at the top.

One scene that shows Joseph and Hannah at their happiest takes place at a wake. That may sound morbid, but it expresses beautifully the contradictions that lie inside every one of us. We can be happy and sad at the same time, but we can’t cope alone.

This is Paddy Considine’s first full-length film as director, and there is clearly much in it that is quite personal for him. He has said he feels uncomfortable as an actor and feels he has found his calling as writer and director.

Yet this discomfort produces some fantastically intense performances. I hope Considine doesn’t disappear from the screen—but he should keep up his work behind the camera too.

Films dealing with abuse and alcoholism can be a little bleak, to say the very least. Although there is a lot of violence in Tyrannosaur, it mostly takes place offscreen.

But the “big events” aren’t the point of this film. Rather it is about the growing relationship between two damaged people. Tyrannosaur isn’t exactly happy—but it has a lot of hope in it.

Tyrannosaur is on general release

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