Paddy Considine

Cambridge Film Festival Review: Tyrannosaur

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The Pitch: Dog Dead Afternoon. (Alternatively: Jurassic Bark.)

The Review: If I said “British cinema” to you, then chances are that would conjure up one of a small number of images; most likely either a Richard Curtis type rom-com or a social realism film of the likes of Ken Loach or Mike Leigh today, but that would have its roots in the likes of Lindsey Anderson and the British New Wave back in the Fifties. For decades, we Brits have been fond of the kitchen sink drama, but it’s never really felt like we’ve told all of the stories there, and the likes of Shane Meadows and Peter Mullan have taken the drama out of the kitchen and onto the rough back streets of modern day Britain, with an unflinching view of the literal beating heart of Britain. Step forward then Paddy Considine, who’s the latest director to set a drama on the back street and housing estates of an unnamed British city – but just don’t call it social realism.

It’s a label that Paddy himself is uncomfortable with, but it’s not difficult to see why it’s being applied. When the first three locations in your movie are the bookies, the post office and a charity shop, you shouldn’t be expecting flashy special effects or a cast of thousands. Instead this is a small, intimate piece as Joseph (Peter Mullan) struggles to find a way to control the destructive rage that has gripped him since his wife’s death. He finds his way almost by accident into the charity shop of Hannah (Olivia Colman). Hannah’s Christian kindness sparks something in Joseph, but soon he also finds himself inexorably drawn into her world and the consequences of her relationship with her husband James (Eddie Marsan).

What you may not expecting is quite how good the performances are that Considine has managed to extract from his cast. If you’re looking for understated menace, then Eddie Marsan is your go-to guy, and he delivers a restrained but always threatening performance. Mullan is even better, his random rage and attempts at contrition giving him a huge range to work within, and anyone who can create a sympathetic character from someone whose first action is to kick his own dog to death is doing well. But the stand out without a doubt is Olivia Colman. Best known for her comedy roles with the likes of Mitchell and Webb or as Hot Fuzz’s dirty, flirty Doris, the latter brought her to co-star Considine’s attention and her performance here is nothing short of astonishing. Calm and stoic in the face of everything that life throws at her, it would be unfair to her to describe her performance as anything short of a revelation and in a world where there was some justice, she would be building a giant cabinet to put all of the well-deserved awards that this performance would gather.

And so to that question of social realism. Tyrannosaur might have all the trappings of the kitchen sink drama, but it’s unflinchingly brutal, and staccato bursts of violence have to be tempered by occasional flashes of humour to allow you to get all the way to the end. That occasional humour and a streak of something approaching optimism make the darker side bearable, but it’s still a difficult watch and not for the faint hearted. I mentioned the dog, and it’s symptomatic of Tyrannosaur being unafraid to tread where other dramas might not. Ultimately you can understand the view of not wanting to see this as social realism; it’s more comforting to want to believe that there aren’t real world equivalents to the likes of Joseph and James, and the ending has an almost gothic feel. It’s an impressive debut, enhanced by steady direction that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks or outlandish camera moves, and since Paddy’s said he’s more comfortable behind the camera telling his own stories, hopefully this is the first step in adding another name to the pantheon of great British directors.

Why see it at the cinema: Immerse yourself in a darkened room and lose yourself in the plight and the fate of these characters. Paddy’s also gone for a widescreen ratio – that’s a clue that you should see it on a wide screen (i.e. not your telly). And it’s British – support good British film, not enough gets decent distribution these days.

The Score: 9/10

Review: Submarine

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The Pitch: There’s the odd weed but no Moss in this New Wave…

The Review: It’s easy to form preconceptions when a well known figure turns their hand to directing, especially when that person has portrayed some very distinctive figures in cult comedies of the last ten years. From Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace via The Mighty Boosh to The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade has created some memorable characters, but it would be easy to pigeon-hole him to expect a certain kind of film. It would be easy to pigeon-hole me as someone who writes obvious introductions to their reviews, and this has only served to underline that as of course Ayoade delivers a film well distanced from such expectations. Submarine wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and indeed on most of the rest of its clothing, and what Ayoade has served up can be described in one sentence as a traditional British working class coming of age drama with a Welsh flavour, filtered through the French New Wave in the manner of Wes Anderson.

That it’s so easily summed up is no discredit to the film, but actually doesn’t do it too much of a disservice either. The narrative revolves around Oliver (Craig Roberts) and the twin distractions in his life; his shambling attempts to strike up a relationship with classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige). This is offset by his investigations into his parents’ love live and the potential intrusion of an interloping neighbour (Paddy Considine) with whom his mother (Sally Hawkins) has some prior history. In typical fashion, Craig’s own preoccupations and expectations result in him doing both increasing badly and his attempts to rectify one only serve to have an adverse affect on the other.

As with the movements that have inspired it, Submarine is as much about the small details as it is about the larger plot. The Wes Anderson comparison is probably the key here, the characters feeling very much as if they could inhabit the same literary universe and having their own quirks and foibles. Roberts and Paige are magnetic in their roles, and both feel very much destined for long careers, Roberts especially managing to capture both the everyman anonymity and the eccentricity of his character. Considine gets the most to chew of the scenery of the adults, while Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the parents are much more restrained, but still get to have their moments to shine, especially as the plot strands draw to resolution. As for Ayoade, despite the obvious influences he shows a sure grip on the material at all times and keeps a gentle flow of humour running throughout the picture, but also manages to tap real emotions once in a while as well.

There’s no doubt that the stylistic choices of the New Wave are a natural fit for Oliver’s psyche, even shown at one point laying on the floor listening to Serge Gainsbourg, capturing perfectly the existential angst that seems to inevitably beset teenagers of his kind, at least in films. That was also undoubtedly an influence for Wes Anderson, but the difference between this and Anderson’s best work is that the characters, even when wholly unsympathetic, still manage to have some sense of warmth which is missing from most of the protagonists here, an icy feeling blowing through the film until almost the last scenes. There are a few distinctive touches, not least Alex Turner’s gorgeous songs which perfectly complement Andrew Hewitt’s score, but really there’s more that’s imitation than innovation. So Submarine, while great on its own terms, falls short of classic status, but there’s enough here to suggest that those who’ve not already got a classic film on their CV will have one to add sooner or later. With Ayoade, you feel that it’s likely to be sooner rather than later.

Why see it at the cinema: Taking so much inspiration from a movement that spoke the language of cinema means that there’s plenty that benefits from being projected on a larger screen.

The Score: 8/10