Tyrannosaur: it’s time these class clichés died out
Middle-class charity shop volunteer finds unlikely companion in gruff estate-dweller. How corny can a film get?
For much of the past century, class consciousness has been at the centre of Britain’s film output. Developing the style dubbed by commentators and critics as ‘British Realism’, our filmmakers seem continually preoccupied with class division and its inherent anxieties. But more than ever, realism seems to have very little to do with it, as what began with such kitchen-sink masterpieces as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has now been reduced to one-dimensional and clichéd depictions of life on ‘the other side of the tracks’.
In the world of all things edgy and British, Paddy Considine is almost too good to be true. He is a long-time friend and collaborator of Shane Meadows, has starred in an Arctic Monkeys video and, of course, has a regional accent. After a decade of acting in such high-profile films as Dead Man’s Shoes and Submarine, Considine made the transition into writing and directing with his short film Dog Altogether. His new film, Tyrannosaur, expands upon the BAFTA award-winning short and, much like Considine himself, is a veritable checklist of Brit-flick cliché.
The film tells the story of Joseph (Peter Mullan) and Hannah (Olivia Colman). Joseph is a gruff alcoholic, whose violent rage obscures a heart of gold; Hannah is a middle-class charity-shop volunteer, whose cheery exterior hides a torturous home life. The two meet and, would you believe it, they realise that – despite their different backgrounds – they are kindred spirits.
Not only is the plot a little on-the-nose, but Tyrannosaur is so painfully conventional that at times it borders on parody. Even the setting is all too familiar: a gloomy estate shrouded in perpetual dusk, where sirens are forever sounding in the background and children kick ragged footballs against graffiti-adorned walls.
Furthermore, the way in which Considine attempts to unpick the binary between the middle- and working-class experiences is blatant to the point of being distasteful. In order to show us that Joseph and Hannah share the same pain, Considine juxtaposes images of Joseph spending his evenings in an old armchair, wearing a vest and holding a baseball bat to his head, with scenes of Hannah in the comfort of her new-build home, sobbing into a glass of Blossom Hill. Whilst Considine deals with some pretty dark subject matter – namely abuse, rage and alcoholism – such relentless stereotyping robs the film of any actual pathos.
As the two tortured souls begin to find solace in one another, the rest of the film unfolds in an equally embarrassing fashion. At one point, Hannah joins Joseph at his local pub for his friend’s wake. What follows is a horrendous scene in which she drinks lager, smiles incessantly and dances around with Joseph and his rag-tag group of friends. The fact that this exact sequence was perhaps done with about the same level of sophistication in James Cameron’s Titanic, where Rose joins Jack in steerage to dance a jig and drink Guinness, is rather telling of the level of insight into class division Tyrannosaur provides.
In spite of the dire material they are given, the cast do rather well and are of notably high esteem. Peter Mullan, for instance, has starred in some of gritty British cinema’s most beloved films, including Ken Loach’s Riff Raff and Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. Yet this impressive pedigree only adds to the overriding sense of self-parody, as Tyrannosaur is little more than a caricature of the sort of film that someone like Mullan would find himself in.
Tyrannosaur has already won numerous awards at both the Sundance and Munich film festivals, and it’s easy to see why. Like the old Hollywood joke that all you need to do to win an Oscar is make a film about the Holocaust, it seems that all you need to do as a British filmmaker to find critical success is to cobble something together involving a grotty pub, a rough estate and a pit-bull chained to some railings. Tyrannosaur is all this with bells on: a paint-by-numbers British drama that is as offensive as it is redundant.
Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.
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