The Legend of Barney Thomson: Review

2015’s The Legend of Barney Thomson is a fantastically macabre British comedy based on Douglas Lindsay’s novel The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson. Robert Carlyle makes his directorial debut and stars alongside Emma Thompson and Ray Winstone in this blood soaked romp through Carlyle’s native Glasgow.



Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is a middle-aged, socially inept barber whose career and life are slipping away. The film isn’t the story of him masterfully getting his life back on track though, instead a series of accidents and misunderstandings mix with Thomson’s increasingly sad situation to form a lethal cocktail of murder and anxiety. Thomson loses control of his life and everything in it while a coinciding spate of murders leads to a police net closing in on the anxiety-ridden barber.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is a condensed shot of brilliantly dark humour.

Emma Thompson’s performance as Barney Thomson’s ageing and damaged mother is brilliant and yields some remarkably dark moments as well as scenes that will make any viewers’ skin crawl. As the story progresses her dark past is slowly un-furled and the reveal puts Barney’s own struggles in a more and more interesting light. The largest argument the mother and son duo have is perhaps the films darkest moment despite gore and vulgarity elsewhere. Ray Winstone also fits the bill well in his role as the detective pursuing Thomson’s murder case, (and the case of the coinciding serial killer). The conflict between the various detectives undertaking the investigation makes for an interesting side-plot and sees Winstone’s character slowly derail.


As a director Carlyle clearly enjoyed showing off his hometown and the film at times creates a uniquely Glaswegian atmosphere, especially in the barber shop where Thomson works.  Other moments such as a scene at Shawfield Greyhound track, one in a bingo hall and another on some particularly desolate waste-ground overshadowed by tower blocks, all demonstrate a less pleasant side of Glasgow and Carlyle does a good job of creating a dark atmosphere to match the film’s macabre themes.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is a condensed shot of brilliantly dark humour and also packs some hard hitting revelations. The brilliant central trio of Winstone, Carlyle and Thompson put in memorable performances and the film as a whole is a fantastic first foray into the director’s chair for Carlyle.

George Storr

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