Film & TV

British Film Festival Review: The Legend Of Barney Thomson

Hapless barber, Barney Thomson, finds himself a suspect in a major investigation tracking a local serial killer but from there, things only keep get worse.

Famous Scottish actor Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, Trainspotting) not only stars in, but makes his directorial debut in this macabre black comedy that focuses on hapless Glaswegian barber Barney Thomson and his unfortunate stumble into criminality.

Barber Barney is a simple man, living a lonely mediocre life in gloomy Glasgow. Between his rudeness to customers and limited repertoire of two appalling styles of haircut, he is barley holding on to his job. He is a dismal sad-sack at the best of times, but things become worse when, in an unfortunate accident, he kills his boss.

In a pitiful and often comical downward spiral, Barney then finds himself a suspect in a major investigation tracking a local serial killer, who gets a kick out of sending dismembered body parts of the victims to their relatives (including a penis and buttocks). Unfortunately for Barney, things keep getting worse and worse, as the plot twists and turns with more and more murders unfolding around him.

A successfully humorous aspect of the film is that all of the characters have the stereotypical Glaswegian brashness of speaking whatever is on their mind, and in horrendously foul language. This is especially evident between the two competing detectives on the case of the serial killer, as their screaming matches elevate insult to a comical art form.

Carlyle plays Barney with a face of constant despair throughout the film. He skilfully manages to strike a clever balance that allows the audience to both pity him for the constant disasters that befall him, but also laugh at his hopelessness.

Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks) is the real shock of the film, playing Barney’s foul-mouthed, gambling tempest of a mother, Cemolina, who initially appears to be a selfish, hapless mother of a dreary hapless son, but we soon discover she hides a much darker, more sinister side. Never before have we seen Thompson in such a brash, vulgar, and sometimes downright detestable role, but she does the job beautifully (or perhaps with exquisite ugliness).

Slipping back into a familiar role as working class cop is Ray Winstone (The Bill), playing the angry, acerbic and irritable Detective Holdall who is determined to prove that Barney is the serial killer. His sparring partner and competitor is Detective Inspector June Robertson, brilliantly played by Scottish sweat-heart Ashley Jensen (Extras) whose ruthless, ball-busting clashes with Holdall provide much of the film’s laugh-out-loud comedy.

Carlyle has made a good directorial debut in the style of British black comedy, which will keep viewers entertained and amused whilst sometimes shocked by the film’s sinister side.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Twitter: @Georgie_xox

Rating out of 10: 6.5

The Legend of Barney Thomson will screen again on 10 November 2015 for the BBC First British Film Festival, which runs 28 October – 18 November 2015 exclusively at the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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