Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson
In an era in which we cannot get away from hugely expositional trailers, interviews on every radio and television channel and media publication, it is rare to walk into a film knowing nothing about it other than its title. However upon entering the cinema, all I knew of The Legend of Barney Thomson was the title, and for that I am thankful.
I am sure I would not have enjoyed this wonderfully dark comedy any less if I’d known the film premise and cast, but it made for a brilliant experience, watching the ludicrous plot unfold and meeting the wacky characters without any notion of who or what to expect. This especially rings true when encountering Emma Thompson’s character for the first time; the actress giving a simply brilliant performance as Barney’s despicable but hilarious mother, underneath her wonderful aging make up, tarty leopard print coat and shrill Scottish accent. As for Barney – the legend – he is played by Robert Carlyle who proves himself to not only be a talented actor, but director too, this film being his debut.
The story follows a period of time in the life of Barney. He is a hopeless Scottish barber (who himself is in desperate need of a hair revival), living a mundane, monotonous existence, until a couple of incidents lead to Barney becoming involved in all sorts of turmoil with the police, who are on the hunt for a serial killer located in the local area. The plot unfolds in all manners of nonsensical ways, with a simply astonishing ending that you just couldn’t make up, if it wasn’t made up.
The increasingly darkening plot is set against the vivacious backdrop of Glasgow. Some of the scenes contain wonderful colour schemes, such as the red tinged barber shop – not purely because that’s the colour of the blinds. The soundtrack matches the setting of Glasgow; upbeat, pulsating, very much going against the tone of the film. It took me back to the films of another Scottish filmmaker, Lynne Ramsay. Known initially for Ratcatcher and Movern Callar, and later for We Need To Talk About Kevin, all three were produced with buoyant, jaunty soundtracks whilst all tackling difficult plot points. It is not a technique that is appropriate for every film, but it works to great effect for The Legend of Barney Thomson, proving Robert Carlyle as a promising director.
The film is hugely funny, whether it causes an outright laugh, a snigger, a chortle or the odd snort, it is one that successfully generates laughs despite the ominous nature of the plot. The film appears unassuming in its comedic approach, and its dialogue, tone and timing is just as funny as its physical and visual comedy.
Alongside Thompson and Carlyle are a range of stellar performances by the supporting cast. Ray Winstone is slightly typecast but superb as a brash and crude cop facing off against Ashley Judd’s feisty, but trying too hard policewoman, and the deadpan, wry performances of Tom Courtenay and Brian Pettifer enhance and inspire the many laughs.
The Legend of Barney Thomson was 90 minutes of laughs, top performances, thoughtful camera work and zany yet morbid story telling. It might struggle to reach a wide audience and certainly won’t be for everyone, but those who do see it, and do enjoy it, will really enjoy it.