Directed by Robert Carlyle. Starring Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Ashley Jensen.
Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is a Glaswegian barber who wishes he had made more from his life. Prone to outbursts of anger, he is finally fired but as he begs for his job back, he accidentally kills his boss and, with a serial killer on the loose, decides to get rid of the body and hope for the best. Of course, nothing ever seems to go Barney’s way, and a series of unfortunate events later, he finds himself a reluctant and pursued serial killer.
THE VERDICT: Although Robert Carlyle seems to be having a great time on TV at the moment, with recent roles in ONCE UPON A TIME and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE, it seems like a long time since we have seen him on our cinema screens. This week, all of that changes with Carlyle not only playing the lead role in THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON, but also taking over behind the camera, with his directorial debut.
Carlyle plays Thomson as a man who seems bewildered at how he has meandered through his life, and wishes for more. Swinging between anger and bewilderment, Carlyle makes the character warm and unfortunate enough for the audience to root for him. The real star of the show here, however, is Emma Thompson as Barney’s overbearing and ultimately cruel mother Cemolina. Thompson is hilarious and vitriolic as Cemolina, and it is she that shines through every scene that she is in. Ray Winstone sticks with type and plays angry and disappointed police officer Holdall, Ashley Jensen steps away from the nice woman roles she is known for and curses up a blue streak as Detective Inspector June Robertson, and Tom Courtenay turns up as Chief Superintendent McManaman.
The story, written for the screen by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren, is a dark, violent and profane look at a disappointing life that suddenly becomes extraordinary… For all the wrong reasons. The dialogue is not only filled with some incredibly inventive insults – ‘You look like a haunted tree’ being a standout – but it is twisted and twisting enough to keep the audience engaged for the most part. Towards the end, audience sympathy for Thomson does begin to wane a little, but the final resolution is not only deliciously dark, but wonderfully funny.
As director, Robert Carlyle captures the dark side of Glasgow, the rapid fire insults and wit of its inhabitants and the balance between dark bloody violence and twisted humour. The characters are rounded out enough for the audience to engage with them, and he has directed a standout performance from Emma Thompson. The pacing of the film, however, is a little sloppy. The film runs out of steam in its final act and, at times, feels way longer than its 96 minute running time. The film is beautifully and carefully shot, however, with even the grimiest of locations looking stylish and oddly beautiful.
In all, THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON is a stylish and clever directorial debut from Robert Carlyle. The careful balance between gore and laughs is struck, for the most part, and although the novelty and shine wear off the film in the final act, there is enough here to keep the audience engaged and rooting for the anti-hero. Carlyle carries the film ably as the title character, and Emma Thompson is perhaps the best – and most vulgar – she has ever been. With THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON, Carlyle proves that while he still has some lessons to learn, he is a director to watch out for.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The legend of Barney Thomson
Review by Brogen Hayes
3.5Stylish and clever
  • filmbuff2011

    Scottish actor Robert Carlyle has turned his hand to directing, first with the Once Upon A Time TV series and now with his debut feature, The Legend Of Barney Thomson. Set in his native Glasgow, it focuses on mild-mannered barber Barney (Carlyle), who seems content with his quite ordinary and boring life. Sometimes volatile and not exactly cheery with the customers, he’s demoted in his job. Shortly after that, he’s let go by his boss. But then he accidentally kills him with a scissors during a tussle. He rather ineptly disposes of the body, with the help of his bingo-loving mother Cemolina (Emma Thompson) who will do anything to protect her son. At the same time, police detective Holdall (Ray Winstone) is investigating a series of murders, all of which involve the same pattern: body parts being discovered scattered all across the local area. That’s when he comes sniffing into Barney’s territory, with Barney nervously blundering his way through an interrogation. Meanwhile, more bodies start to accidentally die around Barney… Based on the book The Long Midnight Of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay, the film has been a long time coming for Carlyle. He was approached several times before finally committing to it. Of course, he opted to direct as well, drawing on his work with Ken Loach and Danny Boyle. It’s a well-assembled black comedy, with most (body) parts in correct working order. There’s a strong sense of community in the film, with Glasgow itself playing a character. But there’s also a sense of Barney just being the right guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s an accidental killer, an average joe who just happens to be unlucky. Played with a wee bit of bravado, Carlyle is funny and oddball in equal measure. But most scenes are stolen by the hilarious Thompson. Although just 2 years older than Carlyle, the make-up transforms her into a grotesque harridan, almost unrecognisable from the cheery actress we know so well. It’s worth watching for her performance alone. Some parts don’t work though – rivalry between Cockney geezer Holdall and his Scottish colleagues is played out just a little too high, with the volume turned up to 11. But it does at least result in the funniest and most outrageous scene towards the end. A funny and sharp debut from Carlyle. Not essential viewing, but certainly worth checking out at some point. ***