The Legend Of Barney Thomson

1 March 2016 | 7:38 pm | David O’Connell

"Macabre and bitterly funny for it, this is a tale of a worm turning that actually has some bite."

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson

Robert Carlyle tries his hand at directing with this black comedy based on a series of novels by writer Douglas Lindsay, and transposed to his home town of Glasgow.

Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is not getting the most from his life. He is alone in the world, with only his mother (Emma Thompson) for company, and his job as a barber for solace. When his job is threatened, Barney's pathetic life spirals out of control as he accidentally kills a work colleague. Now Barney has a corpse in the boot, a tough cop (Ray Winstone) nipping at his heels, his mum needing a lift to bingo, and a serial killer working his town.

Gallows humour runs rife in this dark comedy. At times the violence can run to almost cartoonish levels, threatening to derail the thread of the tale and the dark tone. However The Legend Of Barney Thompson finds itself saved by two things.

The first is the excellent cast it has working for it, pulling the story along. On one side of the equation you have Robert Carlyle as the awkward and inadvertently  murderous protagonist. Described as having a face like a haunted tree, Carlyle's Thomson is a man ground down by life, and too filled with anxiety to stand up to it. He is a “long streak of piss” that nervously accepts his lot, even if this does mean the occasional corpse in the boot of his car.

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On the other side of the coin you have Inspector Holdall, Ray Winstone's plain clothes copper. Equally ground down by life, but more of the “if it fucks with you, fuck back” variety. Consequently, he is seething with rage and always seems one tantrum away from an aneurysm. As the 'Ghost Of Policing Past' he becomes a looming presence in Thomson's life. 

Caught between these two is Emma Thompson as Barney's mum, Cemolina. She's having a ball playing against type - crass, crude, and as low class as she could be.

The second element that sells this film is the city of Glasgow. There is the perfect blend between dangerous edge and faded glory in Carlyle's depiction of his city. It seems an apt reflection for the characters, a distinctive spark of life tightly held onto, despite the woes of the world saying otherwise.

Macabre and bitterly funny for it, this is a tale of a worm turning that actually has some bite.

The Legend Of Barney Thompson screens at UWA's Somerville Auditorium until Sunday, March 6, and ECU's Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, March 8, to Sunday, March 13, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival's Lotterywest Festival Films season.

Originally published in X-Press Magazine