EIFF 2015 – The Legend of Barney Thomson

Dir: Robert Carlyle

In the opening narration to Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, Barney Thomson takes great pains to stress how boring he is. As a barber, he is average at best. He has ‘nae chat,’ nothing that will ingratiate himself with his customers or coworkers. He seems to be telling you that he is essentially unlikeable. It’s an inauspicious first impression. Considering what happens next, it’s amazing that anyone could sympathise with Barney Thomson at all.

Based on the ‘barbershop death junkie’ novels by Douglas Lindsay, The Legend of Barney Thomson is a pitch-black comedy set in Glasgow’s East End. It stars Carlyle as the hapless barber himself, whose hopelessly dull life crashes down around him when he accidentally murders his boss. Thomson then spends the rest of the movie running around in a panic, dogged by feuding cops Ray Winstone and Ashley Jenson, and assisted (or perhaps hindered) by his mother, played with sweary abandon by Emma Thompson.

Caked in old-age makeup, Thompson isn’t always convincing as a wee auld wifey, but her performance is still the funniest thing in the movie by far. Or perhaps that honour belongs to Tom Courteney as a police chief baffled by a seemingly unrelated murder spree happening all over Scotland. And there’s Carlyle, playing Barney Thomson as the Anti-Begbie, a whimpering feartie constantly on the verge of hysterics. There are some great gags to find in this film. Unfortunately, there are just as many groaners.

It’s a decent first attempt at directing by Carlyle. The film does a good job at making Glasgow look cinematic, as opposed to looking like your average BBC drama. Still, it’s strangely bloodless for a film that shoves a severed penis in your face within the first few minutes. In the end, it’s far too broad a farce to be completely successful.



Stuart Addison

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