DIR: Sean Foley • WRI: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby PRO: Jack Arbuthnott, Laura Hastings-Smith • DOP: David Luther • ED: Mark Everson • DES: Peter Francis • MUS: Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes • CAST: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Harriet Walter
Pity the poor actor. Those who never attain any measure of success in the first place can be tragic enough. But maybe it’s even crueller on those who had a taste of fame only to have it whisked away by the fickle whims of fashion, time and trends. In this bracket, certain thesps are so hugely associated with only one role that they may as well be branded on the forehead in the eyes of both the public and casting agents. And on these islands, these actors usually suffer a testing amount of recognition without the financial resources to detach themselves away from a level of fandom that is regularly intrusive but rarely lucrative.
It’s a heck of a bind. And it is such a position that Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) finds himself in. The role he is most associated with is the titular Mindhorn – who, as well as being a bit of a tit himself, was also a detective in the ’80s on a show set on the Isle of Man. The show has long since receded in the collective pop culture memory and Richard and his once lustrous hairline have receded with it.
Lucky then, when a seemingly demented killer crops up on the island with his only condition for co-operating with the local cops being if Mindhorn becomes the point of contact. The hunted killer believes that Mindhorn is real. A desperate, depressed Richard is only too happy to play along. He doesn’t need the fictional detective’s bionic eye to spy a real opportunity for exposure and a well earned return to the big time. And earning.
Richard returns to his old stomping ground, palpably anxious and painfully excited about being relevant again. Naturally, the Isle of Man police force is forced to put up with him but his inept interventions have an expiry date as patience and expense accounts run thin. However, the actor has more than crime on his mind on the island as he busily pines for a lost love and covets the success of a former colleague.
Co-written by its star, this is a bravely unflattering and deft performance by Barratt, who injects a delicate balance of resilience, sadness and resentment into Thorncroft while still making us root for him as the ignominies mount up. He has lost out on his former leading lady to a South African stuntman (played by his co-writer Simon Farnaby), who is worthy of his own spin off. And speaking of spin offs, Richard has endured his former side-kick parlaying a minor role in the original show into a franchise that has long outlived Mindhorn.
British comedy has continually show mastery in making their central characters the butt of the joke. No American comedian would probably explore these depths. Yet this film is considerably stronger for it. However, neither is it a perfectly honed, utterly complete comedy film. It boasts a cracker of a first act but once on the island the actual criminal case is concluded with almost comical ease but without much comedy. And with that plot literally on life support, the tautness that provides the richest seam of humour is oddly absent as we follow Richard through a bunch of unfocused scenes as if everyone concerned is trying to find the comedy jugular again but keep missing by a fraction. But the fractions ultimately add up. And while they don’t mar or scar the film too deeply, they do dilute its’ potency.
And the final reel seems a little weak. Perhaps the filmmakers believe that they are honouring the ropey hokum of TV plots as a nonsensical narrative is tied up with ease but little sense. It’s a bit of a cop out if this is the case. The ending needed to be unhinged. It is merely mild and polite.
The inspirations underpinning everything are clear – from era specific shows like ‘Bergerac’ to ‘Lovejoy’ to the knowing parody of ‘Garth Marenghai’s Dark Place’. Naturally over all of this, the shadow of Alan Partridge hangs hugely but as if to acknowledge it – here’s Steve Coogan gleefully sending up his often perceived lust for Hollywood status and success. In fairness, Coogan and his production company are key movers behind the film so he clearly believes Barratt’s Mindhorn is a completely different beast.
Overall, perhaps it’s not the mind-bending treat that has been touted in some quarters but it packs in plenty of laughs into a brisk, lithe and deceptively light package. If this were American in origin, there might be a clamour now to continue and deepen the post-modernism maze by making actual episodes of the Mindhorn show. For once, making a bad show deliberately is not such a bad thought.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Mindhorn is released 5th May 2017