Paddy Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur, a social realist drama focusing on the developing relationship between a violent, unemployed alcoholic and a victim of domestic abuse, deals with a female’s harrowing experience of physical and emotional torment. In this article, I examine Olivia Coleman’s exceptional performance as a charity shop manager struggling to hide the torrent of abuse her husband inflicts upon her; providing one of the most realistic representations of domestic abuse I have come across so far.
TW: Contains upsetting details of emotional and physical abuse.
James and Hannah are well-respected members of their community, residing in a detached house in a middle-class area of suburban Leeds. Above the mantlepiece in their home hangs a seemingly idyllic portrait of the couple, wearing smiles on their younger newly-married selves. Yet, in the years since their honeymoon days and underneath the picture-perfect exterior, their relationship is vastly different. James is consistently physically, verbally and emotionally abusive towards his wife, presented through a string of increasingly demonic acts of brutality towards his partner. Included within this are urinating on her, threatening her with death, beating her up and eventually raping her.
Coleman portrays a sense of heartbreaking realism to the character of Hannah, who struggles to keep herself stable whilst attempting to lead a normal life. The physical effects of James’ rages become more and more evident upon her body, and Coleman accordingly transmutes her character into a more fearful woman as the narrative progresses. For example, in the opening sequence (when she meets Joseph, a violent widower with a self destructive mentality – who bombards the charity shop whilst hiding from youths) Hannah is kind and welcoming, praying for Joseph in his time of need and remaining resilient despite the man’s nasty comments and jibes. Yet as the abuse worsens at home, her next meeting with Joseph is distant and disinterested, seemingly becoming unable to cope with the disparity between her home and work life.
A particularly eye-opening scene occurs after James threatens to murder Hannah (thinking she is having an affair, he signals towards her with a knife across the neck): being too scared to return home, she goes into town and drinks herself into a state of oblivion. Here, the use of drink as both an emotional crutch and a vest of confidence is explored – dosing herself with endless gin and tonics provides a numbness to James’ behaviour whilst allowing Hannah the ability to feel less scared of finally arriving home. As she stumbles through the city streets, placing incoherent phone calls to James’ phone in a desperate attempt to curt his violence, the acting feels unbelievably real – the fear in her facial expression and voice creates a horrendous sense of foreboding. Eventually, when she returns, this is the only time in the entirety of the film Hannah is able to fight back towards James’ physical advances, albeit with horrific consequences. For minutes, audiences will want to believe James has the ability to change, and understand Hannah’s fear, but of course – in stark reality – domestic abuse does not work in this way.
Whilst examples of James’ abuse are showcased, as are his emotional pleads for forgiveness: and Coleman’s exploration of her torn feelings between disgust and acceptance are a powerful and honest representation of the duality of being a victim. A close-up to Hannah’s face as she repeats to James ‘I love you, it’s okay’, whilst simultaneously looking repulsed by her own actions, is deeply upsetting. Furthermore, Considine explores other factors in women’s (and men’s) reasoning for staying in abuse relationships; such as the belief no family or friends will believe the extent of abuse or her social position will deteriorate. As a deeply religious woman (a portrait of Jesus Christ resides in her charity shop, continually bearing judgement upon her lifestyle and choices), Hannah constantly punishes herself for not making the right decisions.
Frustratingly, Considine provides no further narrative explanation of Hannah’s life after she brutally murders James, only that she is confined within a prison and maintains her religious beliefs (from the visible cross on her neck). Unlike Joseph’s monologue, which details his life since the discovery of James’ body (including the murder of a neighbour’s dog, serving jail time and moving away), Hannah has no perspective and receives no emotional development in the film’s ending. I understand the narrative always focused on Joseph, but Hannah’s segment within the story feels as though it abruptly ends; that she had received her comeuppance for murder and was ultimately paying the price. This perspective within domestic abuse is damaging, and portrays female victims as equal perpetrators of violence, despite acting in defence.
Perhaps if Considine had provided Hannah with dialogue in the film’s denouement, and personal explanations of her mental state and understanding of the situation, the film would have ended with more perspective on the aftermath of domestic abuse simply than a prison sentence is the answer. Nonetheless, Coleman’s performance is truly outstanding and despite the incredibly difficult narrative content, its an important depiction of a victim’s life in an abusive relationship.