It would appear that the latest in a long line of actors-turned-directors is Scottish star Robert Carlyle, who presents his debut feature film from behind the lens, The Legend of Barney Thomson. However, much like the recent Russell Crowe endeavour The Water Diviner, we have an actor providing themselves with a nuanced, well-crafted character to embody, caught up in a story that otherwise leaves a lot to be desired.
Carlyle plays the titular protagonist, a hairdresser on the brink of being sacked, thanks to his anti-social demeanour and inability to hold down any sort of fruitful conversation with his customers. In a bid to plead for his employment, he accidentally murders his boss, which leads off to several other misdemeanours. Detectives Holdall (Ray Winstone) and June Robertson (Ashley Jensen) start competing between themselves as to who can catch this repeat offender, though Barney’s blissful ignorance ensures he keeps the law at arm’s length. Until he confides his crimes to his mother (Emma Thompson), opening up a whole new can of worms.
At its core, The Legend of Barney Thomson is a deeply sad, poignant film, with an empathetic protagonist. While Carlyle must be commended for his turn, and ensuring the role keeps the viewer on side in spit of his reprehensible actions, tonally, this film is all over the place. Though the comedic elements are essential in providing a sense of light relief, they are implemented too frequently, and it serves only in undermining the more sincere, sombre aspects of the narrative. Carlyle struggles to find a compatible balance between comedy and pathos, which is emblematic in the relationship between Barney and his mother. With shades of Psycho to their dynamic, it’s not examined substantially enough, and we lose sight of the more intimate aspects and the nuances, instead being presented in an all too unsubtle and comedically inclined manner.
It’s an area where the recent drama Filth triumphed – to present a dark tale amidst the streets of s Scottish city, and manage to be affecting, moving and yet funny at the same time. The Legend of Barney Thomson is evidently vying to be perceived in much of the same way as Filth or even Trainspotting for that matter, in how we’re taking this bleak and gritty tale and using surrealism and a certain stylistic fervour to depict the horrors of reality. However any comparisons to the two aforementioned titles sadly ends there.