Movie Review: THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON (UK/Canada 2015) ****

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legendofbarneybaTHE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON (UK/Canada 2015) ****
Directed by Robert Carlyle

Starring: Robery Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone

Review by Gilbert Seah

The film THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON arrives with zero fanfare but is a film that should be taken seriously. A film that could be alternatively titled THE DEMON BARBER OF GLASGOW, the film is based on the book “The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson” by Douglas Lindsay. The film begins when barber Barney accidentally scissors to death his boss, Wullie (Stephen McCole) in the barber shop that leads to another death, thus classifying him a serial killer. Barney becomes a Scots Sweeney Todd with several inept Glaswegian cops on his case.

The film takes quite a while to get a solid footing. The first third of the film muddles around with little humour, ingenuity or direction (and those unable to decipher the Scots accent might leave the cinema) but Carlyle slickly gets the action in gear and keeps the film moving during the next 2/3 of the film, leading it to a climatic mother/son confrontation and a Mexican stand-off. But the main plot of the reason Barney Thomson becomes a legend is still in effect, a comical farce that finally succeeds.

For a film entered on grisly murders that include chopping up of body parts, the film is free from violence. But the film is not without queasy scenes that include a severed penis and other assorted boy parts bundled up for the Royal Mail. The language is also particularly foul, especially the words coming out of Barney’s mother, oddly called Cemolina (Emma Thompson).

Three strong British actors headline the film. Carlyle himself, Thompson and Ray Winstone are thee actors I would pay serious money to see on screen. Thompson who is barely two years older than Carlyle, plays Barney’s mother with all the wicked relish she can muster. Her make-up by Oscar Winner Mark Coulier makes her look the part. Hissing out most of her lines with a fag always hanging from her mouth, this is Thompson the complete opposite, not the Thompson HOWARD’S END audiences know. The funniest part has her dipping biscuit dropping into her tea and then remarking: “I now have to fish it out with my spoon.” The mother/son confrontation in which she reveals how much she has done for him, including providing him dolly mixtures when he was a kid is priceless.

Carlyle is a Scots actor best known for his role in Danny Boyle’s TRAINSPOTTING. Carlyle’s debut directorial feature has the occasional feel of a Coen Brothers film (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA), but Carlyle who has worked with great English directors like Ken Loach (RIFF-RAFF, CARLA’S SONG), Boyle (TRAINSPOTTING) and Shane Meadows (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS) and the influences of the three directors are evident here. The atmosphere of small town mentality of Meadows is the most obvious.

THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON opened at the Cineplex Yonge and Dundas Toronto last week and continues with an added opening at the Carlton Cinemas. The film arrived with zero publicity and no press screenings, the only reason I can think due to is the film’s macabre nature. But this is a awesome little gem, that is a must-see!

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