Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Legend of Barney Thomson

In an interview with NME in November, Robert Carlyle announced he will be returning for the now-confirmed Trainspotting sequel; currently titled T2. As the psychopathic Francis Begbie in 1996’s Trainspotting, Carlyle’s career truly began and he followed it with roles in The Full Monty, The World is Not Enough and Angela’s Ashes. As he prepares to come full circle and return to the role that made him, his feature-length directorial debut is released on DVD. Let’s have a look at it…

Out now on DVD comes Robert Carlyle’s feature-length directorial debut; The Legend of Barney Thomson. Based on the novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson - the first book in the Barney Thomson series - Carlyle also stars in the title role of lonely barber Barney. Laughed at and abused by his peers, Barney is a sad man with few friends – his only real connection is shared with his alcoholic chain-smoking mother (Emma Thompson). When he’s fired from his job at the barbershop, the only thing he has left, he accidentally murders his boss when he pushes him to the ground and his hair-scissors end up through his heart. This sets into a motion a series of increasingly violent and unexpected events that turn Barney’s sad existence upside down. Hot on his tail is Holdall (Ray Winstone), an aggressive Cockney detective who hates every minute of being in Glasgow, a place he calls a ’shithole’. 

This story of accidental murder going from bad to worse is something we have seen before, granted. But The Legend of Barney Thomson isn’t too fussed about the story, evidently – the twists are predictable, there’s nothing hugely fresh in the narrative and the climax is pretty ridiculous – but this is more of a character study than anything. The clue is in the name. For some films with weak casts, this is bad news. But here, the characters are brilliantly written and performed across the board. The Legend of Barney Thomson is surprisingly hilarious in places, with stand-out performances from Emma Thompson – almost unrecognisable, due to heavy make-up and an extremely convincing Scottish accent, Ray Winstone and the great Tom Courtenay, one of my favourite actors making a rare comedic appearance. After his incredible work in 45 Years and his role in the upcoming Dad’s Army reboot, Tom Courtenay seems to be back after something of an absence. This is excellent news. A strong supporting cast of James Cosmo (seen recently on Game of Thrones) and Extras’ Ashley Jensen make for a well-performed set of characters.

I was frequently reminded by Ben Wheatley’s phenomenal Sightseers when watching this. There’s just something humorous about inexperienced murder in film, isn’t there? While Sightseers is different in that the murders are intentional and Barney’s are not, there’s certainly a tonal similarity in the grimly black humour. The film is extremely dark and macabre, although actual violence and gore is kept to a minimum – not including the shot of a severed penis. No, The Legend of Barney Thomson focuses more on the aftermaths of the killings – clumsily hiding and discarding of bodies, the ensuing police investigation and Barney’s nervously bumbling, suspicious attitude with almost everyone he talks to. His stupidity is questionable and often irritating, but this is a comedy and Carlyle owns the role. His performance as the eponymous barber is nothing short of fantastic, and easily his best work since Trainspotting.

His direction is equally brilliant, with an aurora of confidence and professionalism that makes it hard to believe this is a feature-length directorial debut. After directing an episode of SGU Stargate Universe in 2010 and this in 2015, Carlyle is a directorial force to be reckoned with! The film’s visuals are beautifully bleak and make Glasgow a character in itself. I’m not Scottish, nor have I ever been to Scotland. But from other reviews I’ve read and discussions I’ve had with Scots who have seen it, the film is seeming to be labelled as ‘uniquely Glasgow’ and ‘very Scottish’, so I’m sure there’s even more to like here for a local who knows the streets that Barney walks in the film.

To conclude, there’s nothing hugely original in The Legend of Barney Thomson, but it’s a lot of fun. Thanks to strong and confident direction, solid writing and great performances across the board, The Legend of Barney Thomson doesn’t let its shortcomings stop it from being a bloody good film.

The Legend of Barney Thomson  gets 4/5.


Sam Love

The Legend of Barney Thomson at CeX

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