BLACK comedies are tricky things to pull off, as Robert Carlyle proves with The Legend of Barney Thomson, his directorial debut about a Glaswegian barber (Carlyle) who becomes the prime suspect in the hunt for a local serial killer.
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It will perhaps impress festival audiences pleased by groaning Glaswegian banter, faux outrageousness and the sight of Emma Thompson subsumed by crone make-up and fag smoke, but whatever Carlyle is going for doesn’t translate into the macabre laughs its jokily violent premise demands.
Reminiscent of Filth in its try-hard shock-Jock humour, but lacking the emotional complexity that helped that film transcend some of its myriad flaws, The Legend of Barney Thomson homes in on its titular protagonist. Newly demoted to working at the back of the barber shop, and then let go altogether, Barney’s insignificance in the world is reinforced by his domineering mother, Cemolina (Thompson), who doesn’t see the point of her son beyond giving her lifts to the bingo.
That all starts to change when he accidentally kills his boss. Committing the crime while a serial murderer with a penchant for posting body parts to the relatives of victims is terrorising Glasgow, Barney soon finds himself under suspicion while trying to cover up his own misdeeds. None of which is particularly funny. Carlyle opts for panto-style grotesquerie and heightened, anachronistic production design – the latter throwing up some beautifully framed shots of Glasgow, but unmooring the film in more problematic ways.
Characters who exist on a diet of fish suppers and cigarettes suggest a 1970s or 1980s setting, but Angelina Jolie references and Kasabian posters on the walls time-stamp it as contemporary. It doesn’t help that the plot twist is easily guessable, or that the characters are so thinly conceived.