With this impassioned and unrelentingly bleak directorial debut, Paddy Considine – the man best known as Shane Meadows’s regular leading man – reveals himself as a strong director of actors. Mullan and Marsan deliver a pair of forceful, if familiar, performances, and the supporting cast are all near-perfect.
Special mention, though, goes to actress and comedienne Colman whose astonishing turn as Hannah scales the same excruciatingly fragile heights as Emily Watson in ‘Breaking the Waves’. Her work is exemplary: technically polished without feeling studied, empathetic but never overbearing or saccharine. One scene has her weeping in the storeroom of her charity shop while guzzling vodka, then switching in a heartbeat to a picture of happiness when a customer enters. It’s a shame that Colman is shortchanged by Considine’s writing and direction, which is prone to excess: one trite moment has her wailing abuse at a portrait of Jesus. There’s another instance where Joseph is sat in the pub psychotically muttering to himself, an off-hand morsel of virtuosic acting that confuses rather than enlightens. And whichever way you slice it, the story never feels fully plausible.
The supple, close-proximity camerawork by cinematographer Erik Wilson complements the material nicely, though the same can’t be said of the wan acoustica that crops up constantly on the soundtrack. The film says that a violent way of life is always punished, sometimes physically, always psychologically. It’s not a particularly deep or unique statement, but Considine howls it with sincerity and conviction.