Q: How many Glaswegians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None a’ yer f——g business.
You don’t have to be a Scot to laugh yourself silly at The Legend of Barney Thomson, although canny viewers will no doubt catch more of the inside references.
Robert Carlyle’s (The Full Monty) feature directorial debut is the
blackest of black comedies, a shaggy dog story about a dull barber who
becomes an accidental killer. As Barney, Carlyle narrates his own story,
starting with the incident that sets everything in motion: his boss at
the barbershop moves Barney to a less attractive station at the back of
And why not? Barney is dull, dour and abusive to clients; he hangs
about the shop like a haunted tree, says his boss. Later, when the two
men scuffle, Barney’s boss falls on his scissors and dies.
What’s a lad to do? Barney turns to his mom (Emma Thompson, beyond
brilliant here), a foul-mouthed, hard-partying, bingo-playing harridan,
and she helps our hero dispose of the body.
Running alongside Barney’s fumbling misdeeds is the work of a real
serial killer who’s been offing young men and sending bits and pieces of
their bodies through the mail.
Those killings place Ray Winstone in the story as Holdall, an inept
British detective, and Tom Courtenay appears as the Chief Superintendent
on the case; Ashley Jensen turns up as a loud, brash, competitive
detective who can’t wait to take over the case herself.
Holdall questions Barney about the missing barber. The assumption is
that the barber is just the latest victim of the serial killer, but
Barney is so nervous around the police that Holdall begins to wonder if
he has something to hide.
Barney, meanwhile, has to deal with the fact that a local halfwit
(Brian Pettifer) probably knows about his crime. Between protecting his
dark secret, dealing with the cops and running his mom to bingo, our
Barney has his hands full.
Based on the way pop songs are used ironically in The Legend of
Barney Thomson, the movie is set either in the recent past or in some
idealized past that exists mostly in the minds of Scots. Glasgow looks
very much of-the-past in the movie and down at heel, and yet there are
loving shots of familiar places that are imbued with nostalgia —
Barrowland, for example. The movie mocks everyone and everything in
Glasgow, but under the laughs is a love letter to that city and its
The story is a bit thin on the ground in Barney Thomson, but the
laughs are plentiful and very UK in nature. And the cast is great.
Carlyle has rounded up James Cosmo, Kevin Guthrie and Stephen McCole,
among others, to help tell his story. The performances, particularly
Emma Thompson’s wild turn as Barney’s mum, make it all worthwhile.
The Legend of Barney Thomson was nominated for four BAFTA Scotland
awards and won two — Best Feature Film, and Best Actress, for Emma
The movie opens March 4 in Toronto at the Yonge-Dundas Cineplex and
in Vancouver at the Cineplex International Village and will open in
other Canadian cities thereafter.
Read the review here.