Barney Thomson is an unassuming Glasgow, Scotland, barber. That is, until a pair of scissors finds its way into the chest of his employer, and Barney is mildly to blame. So begets the story of how Barney Thomson became a legend in his small corner of a big city. As a barber who was on his way to being fired, he now finds himself tasked with covering up a murder, maybe two. In The Legend of Barney Thomson the happenstance of murder is carefully crafted in a dark comedic style, with the guidance of actor-turned-director Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Trainspotting) who also plays the starring role of Barney. The entire film is a recollection by Barney of the events that changed his life—for better, if you ask him—and the style in which the film is shot depicts an almost fairytale-style recreation. If you prefer your fairytales dark, full of odd characters, and strongly pushing moral boundaries.
The Legend of Barney Thomson is all shadow playing amongst the dark and the light. Cinematographer Fabian Wagner (“Game of Thrones”) paints a dreamlike haze throughout the majority of the film, giving it an almost ethereal feeling as it deals with murder and secrets and an altogether crassness. Morality takes a back seat in The Legend of Barney Thomson even if the main character desperately appears to feel an enormous amount of guilt over his actions. That is what makes Barney interesting; just as he is covering up his bad deeds he is apologizing for them, but without any plan to admit to his crimes. Watching him try and reconcile what to do and why he should do as much is part of the pleasure in watching The Legend of Barney Thomson. The entire situation is only made more complicated by Barney trying to get away with murder, when it could have been so much simpler if he’d just gone to the police.
Where would the fun in that be, though?
Especially when the police are a group of ridiculous, bumbling imbeciles who take more pleasure in one-upping each other than actually solving crimes. This may be due to the fact that they aren’t actually referred to by name in the department but by number, such as 529 or 119. How the number is assigned is unknown, but the delivery of such by Tom Courtenay’s Chief Superintendent McManaman will leave you hard pressed to not giggle each time he says a number out loud, even when the actual officer is standing right next to him. Led by Ray Winstone as Holdall and Ashley Jensen as Detective Inspector June Robertson, the officers enjoy sparring in situations where “get your tits out of my face,” or the like, is spoken. When it comes to solving the greater crime that is occurring in the area, as a serial killer is on the loose who enjoys sending body parts to his victims families after their death, they may as well jump in their clown car and go for a ride. When Barney becomes a suspect in the serial murders it only amplifies the police madness, especially when one actually appears to be on to something.
Carlyle tackles the dark comedy of the film with both subtlety and a grandiose manner. He has managed to take control of the actors so they deliver their lines exactly how they need to be, either obtusely, sarcastically, ironically, or with an absolute deadpan that keeps the laughs coming time and again. You are meant to laugh throughout The Legend of Barney Thomson, and Carlyle has assembled a group of actors that never disappoint. The standout is above all Emma Thompson (Effie Gray) as Barney’s mother, Cemolina. Thompson dons the most horrid of make-up, wrinkled sun-damaged skin included, and a low-class trashy demeanor to portray Cemolina, a woman you will instantly dislike and treasure all at the same time. Cemolina is fascinating in all of her distasteful glory, and watching her and Barney interact is quite surely the best part of the entire film. Cemolina is not going to win mother-of-the-year, and you would not want it any other way.
As The Legend of Barney Thomson plays out the twists and turns are a playful jaunt to follow along with. There is plenty to witness, laughs to be had, and a story that keeps you questioning exactly how far Barney will go, and whether it all will come crashing down upon him in the end. The end is not what you expect, nor is it what should happen, and that makes The Legend of Barney Thomson worth watching. As far as dark comedies go, The Legend of Barney Thomson hits every mark—and even adds a few new tricks.
The Legend of Barney Thomson was screened at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival. It was the opening night selection of the festival on June 17, 2015, marking the film’s world premiere. It is slated for release in the United Kingdom on July 24, 2015. Further release dates are to be determined.