They come from stratospherically different acting backgrounds, one a bardic pin-up, the other a working man’s hero; but Ralph Fiennes and Paddy Considine have each just released their directorial debut. The films, Fiennes’ Coriolanus and Considine’s Tyrannosaur, are as unalike as one might expect. The surprise comes though that Considine, a young turk of sorts, has come up trumps against UK acting royalty.
Watching Coriolanus, Fiennes’ modern-day Shakespeare adap playing last weekend at the London Film Festival, felt like a return to the days of quality filmmaking. Fiennes has taken a heralded text, stuffed it with a stellar cast (Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave) and high production values, and served a stodgily indulgent prestige piece dressed up as a relevant political drama. It feels like the kind of film the UK industry has made an admirable effort to move away from in recent years. Although Fiennes’ direction demonstrated an adept eye, the whole piece feels showy and dated.
Considine on the other hand has plumped for the other side of mirror. Sombre and earnest, Tyrannosaur follows a faltering friendship between Joseph (an incredible Peter Mullan) and Hannah (an equally standout Olivia Colman). Joseph, a middle-aged drunk whose demons are tugging at his trouser leg, takes refuge in Hannah’s Christian shop. Although Joseph berates her demonstrative faith and middle-class standing, it appears that Hannah’s own violent crisis places them on a par with one another. Some reviews have cautiously warned of the film appealing exclusively to the chattering classes, with a kind of poverty porn. It draws comparisons with Oldman’s Nil by Mouth, but Tyrannosaur’s creators are stringent in avoiding charges of ‘social realism,’ a genre Considine and Mullan have criticized. The film doesn’t ‘tsk’ at the ‘state of society’; instead, the camera flits indiscriminately between the lower and upper-middle, holding back any judgement calls.
Redundant debates aside, Considine caught the breath of the whole cinema and refused to abate until the credits rolled. Something which, amongst the disbelieving sniggers of the Coriolanus audience, Fiennes failed to do. Simplistic indictments of class or social commentary discredit the scale of Tyrannosaur, a success for representational UK cinema, and a snub to the tastes of the past.