Based on a novel by Douglas Lindsay, entitled The Long Midnight Of Barney Thomson, this twisted comedy soon makes itself apparent as a natural choice for the feature directorial debut of one Mr. Robert Carlyle, a man who has given viewers some of his most memorable work in movies steeped in similar amounts of pitch-black humour.
As well as directing, Carlyle stars in the lead role. Barney Thomson is a barber who can do his job well enough, but lacks the ability to put up with the usual conversations that tend to arise in such situations. He doesn’t have any chat, if you know what I mean. Which leads to him being moved further down the barbershop food chain, and eventually told that he’ll be losing his job. Meanwhile, a killer is mailing body parts to people and evading capture by the police (Ray Winstone and Ashley Jensen being the competing officers on the case). These two unrelated elements come together when an accident leaves Barney with a body that he has to dispose of. Nobody would believe that it was an accident, and it’s even likely that he’d be in the frame for many other murders. As he tries to fix the situation, with the help of his unflappable mother (Emma Thompson), things just seem to get worse and worse. And there always seems to be another unpleasant surprise waiting just around the corner for our hapless leading man.
Let me make it clear now, The Legend Of Barney Thomson is a great success for Carlyle. He shows that he’s got some solid directing chops and the lead role allows him to have a lot of fun onscreen. Mind you, it helps that he’s working from a decent script by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren, although I cannot comment on how it compares to the source material (which I have since added to my long reading list). There’s a lot to enjoy here. The only real drawback is the fact that the comedy feels a bit too forced at times, with the third act veering into some infuriatingly convenient situations. Other complaints are minor, and easy to overlook when being entertained by so many great performances supporting Carlyle.
Thompson gives yet another brilliant turn as a mother willing to help her son, yet not willing to show him any real love or support. Winstone is hilarious as the cop who finds himself increasingly sick of Scotland as he deals with an investigation that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon. Jensen tries hard, but she’s no match for Winstone, which sadly unbalances the few scenes in which they face off against one another. And Martin Compston, James Cosmo, Brian Pettifer, Tom Courtenay and Samuel Robertson all prove to be as dependable as ever.
It may not come together as neatly as it could, with some scenes just too flippant and others perhaps missing the opportunity for a better vein of comedy, but this is a fun feature debut, and it’s one that I hope allows us to eventually see more films directed by Carlyle, and also more films featuring Barney Thomson.
The Legend Of Barney Thomson is the film chosen to open EIFF 2015 on 17th June. It then goes on general release on 24th July.
DIRECTOR: ROBERT CARLYLE
WRITER: RICHARD COWAN, COLIN MCLAREN (BASED ON A NOVEL BY DOUGLAS LINDSAY)
STARS: ROBERT CARLYLE, EMMA THOMPSON, RAY WINSTONE, TOM COURTENAY, ASHLEY JENSEN, MARTIN COMPSTON, JAMES COSMO
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX