There is a certain look that people have as they walk out of this film, that makes me feel like we should be handing out complementary kittens or hugs or hot chocolate at the very least. Paddy Considine’s first shot at directing is completely relentless and utterly unflinching, right from its violent outset.
The film centres around Joseph, played by Peter Mullan, a character we see from the very beginning swinging between bursts of rage, remorse and self-loathing as he tries, not hugely successfully, to turn his life around. It’s a heart wrenching portrayal of a man who has lost faith not in the world, but in himself. He can see how cruel, violent and uncaring he can be but cannot seem to stop himself. We can almost see how, as a young man these moments of clarity might have been followed up by attempts at kindness, reconciliation and apologies but as age and bitterness have set in, all he is left with is the certainty that he shouldn’t be around nice people and is beyond help.
Enter Hannah and a spectacular, mould-breaking performance by Olivia Colman who tries to “fix” Joseph with her particular brand of naiveté and religion. I have seen Colman’s character dismissed as just another working-class cliché, another portrayal of a world where “all the women are black and blue” in certain reviews. However, personally I feel that is a shallow and unfair appraisal of a wonderfully complex performance. Anyone watching this surely couldn’t dismiss her as a one dimensional plot device. A perfect example is a scene in which her abusive husband begs for her forgiveness. She gives it, convincingly and wholeheartedly, until he looks away and the fury and hatred in her expression mixes heartbreakingly with her characters natural compassion and the forgiveness she genuinely wants to bestow.
While some have claimed that this film simply reinforces every negative social stereotype going, it seems clear that there are more shades of grey in this film than a dementor’s cloak. Joseph is not the bad-guy-turned-good. Hannah is not the grovelling, snivelling, abused woman turning to God to try to ignore it and they don’t fall in love and fix each other. The only person who could be described as predictable is James (Eddie Marsan) who is just flat out evil. There are no major redeeming features to Marsan’s wonderfully scary, almost unhinged bad guy, but even he isn’t as rotten right through as you might expect. Bring tissues.
Fran works at Phoenix Square as a Front of House Assistant and has a thoroughly useful degree in Drama. Her interests aside from films are mainly tea and cake. Occasionally biscuits.