Film Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson

Director: Robert Carlyle

Starring: Robert Carlyle; Ray Winstone; Emma Thompson

Rating: ★★★

The Legend of Barney Thomson


By Paul Rodger, Arts Editor


Never one to shy away from the camera, and having dominated and lit up sets for over two decades with his loftily acclaimed and much-loved off-the-wall charisma, this summer Robert Carlyle reminded us once again of his enigmatic cinematic prowess. This time however behind the camera, as well as in front, as he released his directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson – based on the crime novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay.

The film begins with the benign musical introduction of Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) – an edgy middle-aged, short fused barber working at a shop in Bridgeton in the East End of Glasgow. The self critical, cagey protagonist of the film berates himself and his “boring” life. Working a monotonous dead end job, still living with his mother, and on the brink of being fired, Thomson cuts an anxious and helpless figure. In the opening sequences, following arguing with waiting customers and haranguing his boss over where he is to do his job – having been recommended to carry out his work in the back room due to his moody character and lack of conversation and rapport with the customers – Thomson is informed after closing time that his services are no longer required. Bumbling and pleading erratically for a second chance, with scissors in hand, things take a more desperate turn as he grapples with his boss, and ends up fatally stabbing him through the chest.

Triggering an absurd chain of comically slapstick events, Thomson is thrust from an ageing down and out barber to a murderer and closely followed and harassed suspect. Detective Holdall (Ray Winstone) and his young colleague MacPherson (Kevin Guthrie) keep tabs on Thomson throughout the narrative as the latter shambolically descends into the category of a serial killer – inadvertently murdering his colleague Chris after he is accused and challenged over the curious disappearance of his boss. Along with his ever demanding and distasteful mother Cemolina, and his simple minded and alarming liability of a friend Charlie, Thomson is distracted and dragged between dingy Barrowland bingo halls and garish fun fairs as he juggles bodies in car boots and an ever-imposing police presence.

As anxiety grows and the plot deepens, the pressure to dispose of his clumsily murdered victims heightens. One of the best and most humorously executed scenes in the film takes place after the fatality of Thomson’s ex-coworker Chris. After obtaining the keys to his flat, Thomson takes his ex-colleagues wrapped up body parts and narrates theatrically – in quintessential, wacky Carlyle persona – as he disposes of Chris’s body parts in the kitchen bin. Unbeknown to Thomson however, Holdall and MacPherson are making their way over to Chris’s flat to investigate. After hiding on the balcony and sneaking back out the front door, Thomson escapes, leaving the two officers stumped – staring in disgruntled pensiveness in the next scene at a dismembered hand, with the middle finger cordially raised.

Perhaps summing up the film in part, this unsettlingly ironic and darkly comedic image reflects Carlyle’s deft composition of witty rolling gags, along with dramatic, macabre transgress – with the penultimate scene culminating in a Tarantino-esque finale. Having honed his acting career over the years as the unconventional wildcard, this tragicomedy didn’t disappoint, as Carlyle ventures into the directors’ realm; laying down a charming and originally crafted opening marker.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);