Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson


DIR: Robert Carlyle • WRI: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren • PRO: Holly Brydson, Brian Coffey, Richard Cowan, Kirk D’Amico, Kaleena Kiff, John G. Lenic • DOP: Fabian Wagner • ED: Mike Banas • MUS: James Horner • DES: Ross Dempster • CAST: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone


The Legend of Barney Thomson marks the directorial debut of legendary actor Robert Carlyle. The film is an adaptation of a book by Douglas Lindsay. It sets out as a barbarous black comedy which details the transition of Barney Thomson’s life as a small-time Glaswegian barber to that of a makeshift serial killer.  Barney (Robert Carlyle) is a barber. He’s a socially inept creature of habit, with his chiseled jaw, greasy slicked-back mane and polished shoes. He’s certainly fort- something; and he’s built a life of undeniable banality. Day in, day out his deft finger work tends the follicles of every last lager sippin’ stool pigeon and wrinkly old Neanderthal in the area who’s in need of a short back and sides. And this banal existence, for better or for worse, is in essence, Barney’s life.

That is, of course, until it all goes belly-up when an altercation in the shop gets out of hand and results in Barney accidentally murdering someone. With both the linoleum floor and his hands stained in blood, Barney sets out on a mission to preserve the life he’s created and decides to conceal the body.  Since cutting is his trade, it’s no surprise that he decides to cut the body up. Of course’ this doesn’t go quite as planned and when body parts start turning up, Barney struggles to evade the crafty detective Holdall, played by Ray Winstone. It’s at about this juncture that the narrative begins to descend into outlandishness, and emotional plausibility seems to totally go out the window. While the film sets out with ambitions as a somewhat cynical British black comedy it just never quite gels together. The comedy is sporadic at best, a tangle of gags, some of which work and some which don’t, and which are knotted together so tightly it’s impossible to tell which is which. If Carry On ever decided to remake the Pink Panther series as a social-realist drama this well could be the end product, a warped farce of a farce that doesn’t quite know what it is.

Carlyle clearly struggled to switch hats between his directing hat and his acting hat. His performance wanes after a while and his comedic efforts begin to feel somewhat forced. Carlyle is a proven contender in the comedy ring, but he doesn’t quite seem to cut it on this occasion, I can only put this down to him juggling duties. The film offers a fantastic supporting cast in Emma Thompson and Ray Winston. Emma Thompson is the most consistently hilarious in the entire equation as Barney’s ex-prostitute mother Cemilina, who’s glazed in more wrinkles and make-up than Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s corpse. But on the whole, Barney Thomson is a far cry from the same blackly comic halls of British cinema as Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Sexy Beast, where this movie so clearly desires to be. It’s the botched haircut you’re just not sure what to with.

Michael Lee

15A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes

The Legend of Barney Thomson is released 24th July 2015