I can’t really review THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON because I’m very good mates with the screenwriter, Colin McLaren. One drunken evening in 2001 we watched five Scottish state-funded short films back to back, got a bit cross about them, and wrote CRY FOR BOBO as the farthest possible opposite we could conceive of to Scottish miserablism.
And, frustratingly, I can’t give you any gossip either, because I don’t know very much and I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone. I mean, I know who modeled for the prosthetic severed penis, but I just can’t tell you. (His name does not appear in this post. But there’s a clue for you — it’s a man.) And I know whose mum Thomson’s performance is partially inspired by, but I don’t think I should go into that either.
Robert Carlyle, making his feature debut, directs and also stars as the titular Barney, a put-upon barber in Glasgow. And the city has never looked better — Glasgow has its own mythic sense of itself, and the film taps into that with expressive, red-soaked visuals. Carlyle seems like a real director, not just for the strong performances he elicits, but for his visual sense and narrative control.
Chief among these is Emma Thompson, barely recognizable in startlingly convincing old-age makeup and a gravelly Glaswegian accent, swearing her head off as Barney’s appalling mum. When Barney accidentally kills a fellow barber, it’s to mum he turns, at which point the plot’s grisly black comedy really starts to ramp up, with rival detectives Ray Winstone and Ashley Jensen closing in on the nervous hairdresser and mum being perhaps more a hindrance than a help.
Oh, there’s also Stephen McCole (the bully from RUSHMORE), and a trio from Colin’s previous feature, Martin Compston, James Cosmo and Brian Pettifer (having a very good year, what with his turn in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell). And Tom Courtenay, who’s HILARIOUS. His timing…
But you can’t really trust me on any of this, since Colin’s a mate. So probably you should just see the film for yourself, right?