I was a big fan of the Scottish television series Hamish Macbeth as a kid. Robert Carlyle played the title character and I thought he was ace. I enjoyed him very much as Begbie in Trainspotting, and later in The Full Monty. Since the heady days of the mid to late 90s we haven’t seen Carlyle much – so it was a pleasant surprise to see him on the bill of Lotterywest Festival Films.
The black comedy The Legend of Barney Thomson gives us a peek into the life of an unpopular Glaswegian barber named Barney Thomson (Carlyle), who ekes out a rather lonely, boring existence until his bad luck manifests itself in a big way. What follows turns Barney into the stuff of legends. The film is based on Douglas Lindsay‘s novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, the first book in the Barney series, and marks Carlyle’s directorial debut.
Poor Barney. He’s disliked by his boss and colleague at the barber shop, where he’s just been given the worst piece of real estate: the barber’s chair in the dingy back corner of the salon. He’s bullied by his mum (Emma Thompson), and his only friend is the bizarre, ruffled shirt-wearing Charlie (Brian Pettifer). And Barney’s hairstyle is just hideous – surely that’s his worst crime as a barber. That is, until he accidentally kills someone…
Ray Winstone is entertaining as the angry DI Holdall investigating the spate of unsolved murders that he and the rest of the cops can’t seem to figure out. But it’s Thompson who is the highlight as Barney’s trash talking, bingo going mum, Cemolina. She’s gritty, awful and so believable. In reality, Thompson is only two years Carlyle’s senior, so with some clever make-up she’s made prune-ish enough to look the part.
Although I haven’t read the book, it felt like a few chapters were missing from the film as at times, the narrative just didn’t flow. Also, Carlyle’s Barney was flawed: he didn’t seem passive enough or stupid enough to really have gotten himself into all that trouble.
However, The Legend of Barney Thomson is still an amusing, macabre ride that comes to a rather satisfying end, perfectly suited to a cool autumn evening under the evergreens at Somerville or Joondalup.
Listen to the podcast of Gemma’s review live on Breakfast with Caitlin on RTR FM 92.1 here.
The Legend of Barney Thomson is now showing as part of Lotterywest Festival Films, Season 2 at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday 8 to Sunday 13 March. Tickets/more info: perthfestival.com.au