Review: The Legend of Barney Thomson

July 23, 2015
  • Rating: ★★★☆☆

Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut is a grotesque carnival of murder and excess that consistently entertains but eventually trips up on its own wild ambition. It follows the titular Barney, a spiritless Glasgow barber guilty of the only sin that’s beyond redemption in his home-town: having nae banter.

When he accidentally murders his boss with a pair of hair scissors, he becomes prime suspect in a Scotland-wide hunt for a penis-posting serial-killer. He calls on the help of his mother Cemolina, a rouged, leopard-print clad battle-axe who’s as comfortable disposing of a body as she is playing the bingo. She’s portrayed by the film’s stand-out performer Emma Thompson, who displays an uncanny mastery of the barbed local dialect.

There follows a pitch-black comedy of errors, in which Barney attempts to evade the self-serving neanderthal Glaswegian police while disposing of a growing list of body parts. The scenes without Thompson and Carlyle are more than carried by an ensemble cast (including Ray Winstone, Martin Compston and Ashley Jensen) that’s probably more heavyweight than the material requires.

But as the plot progresses it becomes needlessly convoluted, while the more surreal elements begin to feel at odds with the chip-grease and fag-smoke realism. In the end, this macabre collection of severed parts never quite hangs together as a coherent whole.

First published in City A.M.