Director Paddy Considine and actress Olivia Colman making the movie "Tyrannosaur." (Strand Releasing )
With its bracing tale of hard-won love between two embattled working-class Brits, the new film "Tyrannosaur" could, at first glance, seemingly belong to the cinematic tradition often referred to as kitchen sink realism — deeply felt, documentary-style dramas that date to the late 1950s, movies that explore the grittier side of English life.
"Tyrannosaur," which marks actor Paddy Considine's feature debut as writer and director, opens with Joseph (Peter Mullan) taking out his rage and self-loathing on the last thing he loves, his dog, kicking the animal to death. He soon meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) in the shop where she works; he develops feelings for her, but their halting, deepening connection is complicated by the presence of her abusive husband (Eddie Marsan).
Considine acknowledges the unusual pairing of torment and uplift, but he says he consciously avoided working within one of the primary currents of British film while making "Tyrannosaur."
"This is not social realism," Considine said at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "I'm saying, 'Here are these people. These are their circumstances. There are the worlds they are from, and this is a love story about the people you walk past in the street. Those people you see at the local shop have got a story.'"
Considine, 37, has appeared as an actor in films such as "In America," "Dead Man's Shoes," "My Summer of Love," "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Submarine," yet he always harbored plans to direct. Once he made the decision to expand upon his 2007 short film "Dog Altogether," Considine wrote the script for "Tyrannosaur" in little more than a week.
Considine wanted the style of the film to be a world apart from the hand-held camera work and improvisational acting typically associated with British realist dramas. He kept the camera on a tripod, trying to include as much expansiveness in the frame as he could, and the actors always stuck close to the script.
"I just kept drilling this idea into the crew," Considine said, "I kept telling them, 'You're not working on a little British film. We're making cinema.'"
When it came time to shoot some of the most harrowing scenes — particularly the sequences in which Marsan had to terrorize Colman — the actors did not fully rehearse. They agreed those moments would have more urgency if their performances remained fresh.
On those days, Considine often took the additional step of lying next to Colman out of view of the camera, even going so far as to stuff himself inside a small cupboard, so that he could be close by to offer her his emotional support.
"It never felt like we were unsafe — it never felt like we were doing anything other than pretending," said Colman, best known in Britain as the star of television comedies, on the phone from her home in South London. "But I'm very pleased if it looks real and upsetting to people."
Despite its difficult subject matter, "Tyrannosaur" has been embraced by the critical community since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It won the world cinema directing prize and a special jury prize for breakout performances from Colman and Mullan in there, and more recently, it received seven nominations for the British Independent Film Awards.
"For me it's a love story," Considine said. "It's about soul mates. They become like people who've been in a war together. They understand each other's scars."
"So much press centered on the idea of gritty realism in relation to 'Tyrannosaur,'" Mullan added recently, speaking by phone from his home in Glasgow, Scotland. "I just don't see it that way at all. I look at it as almost gothic, in the sense it takes pure, undistilled aspects of humanity and puts it with these three people and mixes it around a bit and then we just sit and watch how they deal with it.
"It's actually a caldron of very heightened senses and unhappiness and angst. It belongs more in the poetic world than it does in a realist one."
Though Considine ultimately would like to transition from acting altogether to focus solely on writing and directing, for now he is hoping to find a way to balance them.
Rather than following in the footsteps of the directors he has most enjoyed working with, such as Shane Meadows, Pawel Pawlikowsi and James Marsh, Considine noted that what he is most pleased about with "Tyrannosaur" is that it is so distinctly and truly his own.
"This is my expression now," he said, "this is my voice."