Barber, Black comedy, David Lindsay, Drama, Emma Thompson, Literary adaptation, Police, Ray Winstone, Review, Robert Carlyle, Scotland, Serial killer, The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, Tom Courtenay
aka Barney Thomson
D: Robert Carlyle / 92m
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Ashley Jensen, Martin Compston, Tom Courtenay, James Cosmo, Brian Pettifer, Kevin Guthrie, Stephen McCole
Barney Thomson (Carlyle) lives a sad, awkward life as a Glaswegian barber who doesn’t talk to his customers (or even likes them), has few friends, and lives on his own in a drab flat; in short, he leads a life of quiet desperation. With his attitude at work causing too many problems, his boss, Wullie (McCole), gives him a month’s notice. Barney isn’t too good at accepting this, and pleads with Wullie to keep him on. But Wullie won’t change his mind. Barney’s bad luck gets worse: while trying to convince him, Barney causes Wullie’s death. Panicked, Barney endeavours to get rid of the body, but ends up confessing his “crime” to his mother, Cemolina (Thompson). To Barney’s surprise, his mother helps him by cutting up the body and, at first, putting the pieces in her freezer.
At the same time, the Glasgow police are trying to track down a serial killer who posts body parts to his victims’ families. In charge of the investigation is relocated London policeman, Detective Holdall (Winstone). He’s also tasked with looking into Wullie’s “disappearance”, which brings him into contact with Barney. To offset Barney’s paranoid suspicion that Holdall thinks he’s responsible for Wullie’s “disappearance”, Barney attempts to pin the blame on his colleague, Chris (Compston). But Barney’s plan takes an unexpected turn, and soon matters become even more complicated, leading him to have to count on his mother once more – but in a way that he couldn’t possibly have foreseen.
Robert Carlyle’s first venture into big screen directing – he previously directed an episode of SGU Stargate Universe in 2010 – The Legend of Barney Thomson is an enjoyable if sometimes over-reaching movie that works best as farce, but less so as a straightforward black comedy. Adapted from the novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by David Lindsay, the movie paints a vivid world of meandering lives, muddled relationships and the aforementioned quiet desperation. Barney is the eternal loser, always taking second place in his own life, and too reliant on others to make any serious decisions that would change his life for the better. Carlyle is terrific as Barney: put upon, afraid, going through the motions, and then on edge, anxious and terrified. He’s matched by Thompson, who makes Cemolina a cruel figure in Barney’s life, and whose brassy, couldn’t-care-less behaviour is the antithesis of Barney and his constant worrying. (Winstone and Jensen are less successful, their continual haranguing of each other feeling like it’s been drafted in from another, weaker movie.)
There’s humour aplenty, but too much of it is signposted in advance, and as a result it lacks the kind of impact to have audiences laughing out loud very often. Despite this, the movie moves at a good pace, and Carlyle directs with confidence, even though the material could have been straightened out here and there, and the ending a little less contrived. The Bridgend, Glasgow locations add flavour to the storyline, and there’s solid, suitably dour cinematography courtesy of Fabian Wagner that adds to the often astringent feel of the movie as a whole.
Rating: 6/10 – though not entirely successful, The Legend of Barney Thomson has much to recommend it, from Thompson’s harridan of a mother, to Winstone’s transplanted copper moaning about living and working in Scotland; it’s not a movie that will linger long in the memory after you’ve seen it, but it’s definitely worth watching, and does have an instant classic in the line (directed at Barney), “You look like a haunted tree.”