Written & Directed by Paddy Considine
Produced by Diarmid Scrimshaw
Released by Strand Releasing
U.K. 91 min. Not Rated
With Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman & Eddie Marsan

Joseph (Peter Mullan) lumbers into the opening scenes like the drunken, violent, angry lout of so many working-class films from Great Britain and Ireland. Here in Yorkshire, the destructive middle-aged man seems completely unsavory as he stumbles angrily out of a bar. Fuming at everything and everyone in sight, he strikes his dog with several swift kicks. Guiltily, he buries the dog the next day. By morning, we are more sympathetic to the threatening tattooed neighbor with a pit bull than Joseph. The rest of the film concerns the surprising trajectory of his redemption.

He’s a mean drunk again when he barges into a Christian charity second-hand shop after a fight and won’t leave. At first he scares the volunteer clerk, Hannah (Olivia Colman), but she brightly offers to pray for him. A widower with no one else in his world, he fixates on her, returning back to the shop, and gradually she seems to touch something hopeful in him. But his salvation also comes about when he sees into her life, comes to understand that domestic violence has no class bounds, and learns to empathize with a victim.

Hannah’s husband James (Eddie Marsan) is first glimpsed in a happy wedding photo in their neat suburban home, but in person his behavior is horrific from the first moment we see him in person—and he gets worse, and even worse. This isn’t Marsan’s first cold-hearted villain—he was a kidnapper in The Disappearance of Alice Creed—but his character’s ever more disturbing brutality is magnified from his hiding behind a middle-class veneer of respectability and domesticity. (He doesn’t even need to be fueled by alcohol.) Realistically, there was yet another very similar case of wife abuse and its violent consequences in the local New York news just recently. With a bruised face and just as bruised psyche, it gets harder and harder for Olivia to hide her real life as a battered wife even in the sanctuary of her volunteer work, let alone when her suspicious husband scarily threatens her there too.

Debut writer/director Paddy Considine, the actor from In America, first developed the main characters in his short film Dog Altogether (2007). As the excruciating threat of violence hangs over both Olivia and Joseph, the strained plot expands their interactions so they can gain strength from each other. The couple spends more time together in a brief respite of smiles and freedom from strife before their actions—and desperate reactions—have to be faced (in this environment, a friend’s funeral becomes a happy interlude). However, the storyline is not as strong as the harrowingly indelible performances. Joseph and Hannah’s mutual salvation at least provides some very bittersweet optimism compared to equally difficult films about family violence and persistent guilt, like Tim Roth’s The War Zone (1999) and Peter Mullan’s own Neds, released earlier this year.