The Case of the Sympathetic Barber
About thirty minutes before his Red Carpet appearance, Robert Carlyle gave his frank opinion about the titular character from The Legend of Barney Thomson. “He’s not a very nice person, this Barney,” the Once Upon a Time star admitted at the Whistler Film Festival, where his directorial debut was welcomed for its North American premiere. “It’s one of the most difficult things about the script: How do I play this guy and make him somehow sympathetic? Because he’s a tit, he really is!”
It helps immensely that Carlyle dwarfs Barney’s unpleasant “outbursts” towards customers by bringing on the full force of an outrageous personality like Cemolina. Emma Thompson, a two-time Academy-Award-winning actress, is both delightful and horrifying as Barney’s mother. Only two years older than Carlyle, Thompson benefited from the expertise of Mark Coulier (Spectre, Iron Lady) for the prosthetic make-up design needed to transform her into the feisty Scottish woman. It’s Emma Thompson as you’ve never seen her.
Despite being in her seventies, Cemolina stays active with her betting at the dog races, her lively Bingo nights, and old lady dance parties. But by no means would we ever expect her to garner the accolade of “Mother of the Year” for the scathing verbal abuse she unleashes on Barney, the hapless and lonely barber. “I never saw the f***ing point of you,” she tells her long-suffering son. Ouch.
A View from the Barber’s Chair
The Legend of Barney Thomson follows the misadventures of Barney, who has been relegated to the last chair at rear of Henderson’s Barbershop. About to be fired, he accidentally kills his boss (Stephen McCole) and attracts the fierce scrutiny of Detective Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) and Detective Sergeant MacPherson (Kevin Guthrie). The citizenry of Glasgow are on edge about a strange wave of murders carried out by a killer who mails body parts to the loved ones. An overwhelmed Barney turns to his mother for help, which leads him to uncover some startling revelations. He’s also at a loss about what to do with his so-called friend, Charlie (Brian Pettifer), who connects the dots about the unfortunate accidents at the barbershop.
The script was written by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren, as an adaptation of Douglas Lindsay’s The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson. Understandably, there’s a bit of humor that you can’t pull over to the screen from chapter titles on paper like “Forgive Me, Mother, For I Have Sinned.” But the weakest point of the film for me is how Barney and Charlie are pitted against each other. It feels a bit too contrived, compared to the more natural comparisons between Barney and Holdall. Cowan and Carlyle said at the general Q&A that a lot of creative liberties were taken with Charlie. There’s a connection with Carlyle’s past (a local from “the cinema queue” in Glasgow) that feels far too distant for viewers to readily grasp. At the same time, there are still jokes and a richness to be gleaned from their scenes. The fair or carnival setting is a perfect backdrop for two of their conversations and not solely because they are on the teacup ride.
Dissecting the Barber’s Cut
That point leads me into a far more interesting and pleasant discussion topic: where Robert Carlyle succeeds with his directorial debut. Strong casting, already mentioned with Emma Thompson, is of great importance when the shooting schedule is very tight. Barney Thomson benefits from the talents of Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Ashley Jensen, and others. Another positive aspect is the gallows humor. Adding the Glaswegian accent into the mix makes it possible for Barney’s panicked line of “His freezer is too wee!” to reduce a crowd to full-bellied laughter.
The film has a sophisticated level of cinematography, due to the fantastic artistry of Fabian Wagner (Game of Thrones, Sherlock) in scenes like the Bingo night and Barney’s daymare. The active camera, especially with a complex arc in the latter, pulls the viewer completely into the barber’s state of mind. Closely tied to the cinematography is how the sets were conceived by Carlyle and designer Ross Dempster.
It seems that some critics have found it to be “lacking” or spare, questioning the atmosphere of the Glasgow portrayed. However, Carlyle does have a very specific agenda in keeping things simple and outfitted in a sort of retro style. The jaunty tunes in the soundtrack highlight the irony in Barney’s misadventures, but they also cement a sense of timelessness in hearkening back to decades long gone. After all, legends are timeless, supposedly outliving the hazy eras and rubble in which they take shape. Barney Thomson is a neo-noir film, too, taking some inspiration from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet near the end.
There’s one last series of backdrops and background elements that I want to analyze in a way that might stretch credulity. Kasabian posters bearing Serge Pizzorno’s face pop up regularly, an obvious reference to one of Robert Carlyle’s favorite alternative rock bands. The office of Chief Superintendent McManaman (Tom Courtenay) features a taxidermy bear with its arms outstretched over Holdall as he bickers with DI Robertson (Ashley Jensen). Earlier I mentioned the fair, where Charlie and Barney circle round in the teacup.
Whether it’s entirely intentional on Carlyle’s part, (I suspect it is that) each instance of playfulness carries the underlying motif whereby violence or chaos is ready to burst into the frame. The connection is subtly drawn by the band posters, but plenty of Kasabian’s tracks (“Switchblade Smiles,” “Underdog”) are explicitly about fights. That bear looks just as menacing as it appears comically innocuous with its claws and massive size. Fairs and carnivals have a dark and maddening side (if a bit cliché) as well. Thus it’s surprising when other critics express doubt about the build-up to the inevitable, hilarious, and explosive outcome at Loch Lubnaig. There is a very convincing and well-laid trail.
The Legend of Barney Thomson is a carefully constructed film under the direction of Robert Carlyle. It’s full of surprises and great fun at every turn. You don’t want to miss the blooper reel at the end credits.
This opening feature for the Edinburgh International Film Festival is worthy of the BAFTA Scotland Awards and nominations it garnered recently. It also came out as the runner-up for the Audience Award at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival. The Legend of Barney Thomson comes out on VOD on February 2, 2016, followed by a theatrical release in North American theaters on March 11.
This article was originally posted on Blogcritics.org with the same title. I added photos and made size adjustments.
Born to be Blue is a passion project that was years in the making for actor Ethan Hawke and director-writer Robert Budreau. Hawke plays the role of jazz trumpeter and crooner Chet Baker, who seems to be on the cusp of a comeback when the film opens in the mid-1960s. After his release from an Italian prison, there’s a black and white sequence that pulls the viewer back 1950s. The big moment is an evening in New York at the Birdland jazz club, where legend Miles Davis (Kedar Brown) is in attendance.
Co-star Callum Keith Rennie emerged for a Q&A after the screening at the Whistler Film Festival earlier this month. He called attention to the tensions that he felt Budreau and Hawke wanted to capture. “It was the new white guy on a scene that was predominately understood to be Black. It was ‘the new kid in town.’ I think there was a bit of a distance between the groups coming together,” Rennie explained to the crowd at the Village 8 Cinema.
In early December, I caught up with Robert Carlyle twice at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF) as a writer for Blogcritics. The Once Upon a Time actor was at the snowy ski resorts in Whistler, Canada, for the North American premiere of his directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson. He mingled with screenwriter Richard Cowan as well as producers Emily Alden and John Lenic at the Red Carpet. Read the rest of this entry »
The Whistler Film Festival held a Spotlight on Robert Carlyle earlier this month in British Columbia, Canada. As part of the WFF Signature Series, the actor-director was presented with the Maverick Award. Carlyle’s directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson, was screened later in the evening for its North American premiere.
The event included an intimate conversation with critic Jim Gordon of CTV, a major news network based in Vancouver. Much of the focus on Carlyle these days seems to be on his work with Once Upon a Time and the upcoming Trainspotting 2, projects that he himself appreciates. “One of the lovely things about Once Upon a Time is that [my family and I] can all sit and watch it on a Sunday night together. You can’t really do that with Trainspotting,” he remarked. Read the rest of this entry »
Kiefer Sutherland was one of the headliners at the Whistler Film Festival earlier this month. The veteran actor of the hit series 24 was in attendance to receive the Trailblazer Award and screen his latest film, Forsaken. The Western drama is yet another collaboration between Sutherland and 24 director Jon Cassar. The film also marks the first time that he truly worked with his father, Donald Sutherland. Kiefer Sutherland sat down me at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler in Canada for an interview.
I originally conducted the interview on behalf of Blogcritics.org, where the article is entitled “Whistler Film Festival: Interview with Kiefer Sutherland.”
Welcome to the Whistler Film Festival. How are you?
Thank you. I’m great, thanks for having me on your blog.
Kaleena Kiff and Holly Brydson sat down with me for an interview at the Whistler Film Festival. They are both producers for Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson, which had its North American premiere in Whistler earlier this month. Robert Carlyle was also at the festival to receive the Maverick Award, walk the red carpet, and hold a Q&A with the audience after the premiere screening. Barney Thomson was the runner-up for the 2015 Whistler Film Festival Audience Award.
Do you have a favorite scene from the filming?
Kaleena: I think probably one of my favorite scenes was at the dog track. It was a place that was really special to Carlyle and his dad. Read the rest of this entry »
Kaleena Kiff and Holly Brydson sat down with Blogcritics for an interview at the Whistler Film Festival. They are both producers for Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut, The Legend of Barney Thomson, which had its North American premiere in Whistler earlier this month. Robert Carlyle was also at the festival to receive the Maverick Award, walk the red carpet, and hold a Q&A with the audience after the premiere screening. Barney Thomson was the runner-up for the 2015 Whistler Film Festival Audience Award.
How many years have you been coming to the Whistler Film Festival?
Kaleena: This is probably – I missed one year – my fourth time here. But this is a first time –
Holly: I’m a Whistler Festival newbie!
Recently, The Legend of Barney Thomson just got several BAFTA Awards in Scotland: Best Feature Film, and Best Actress as well as a Best Actor nomination –
Kaleena/Holly: And Best Director!
Yes! And so what’s it like coming off of that and getting the deal with Gravitas Ventures?
Kaleena: You know what, BAFTA was such a surreal surprise. There were some other really beautiful films that were put out by Scotland this year. To have the support we did in Scotland throughout the project was just astounding. They just treated us like one of their own. It’s a co-production between Canada and Scotland. But I don’t think I could be any happier. We were just squealing. There was squealing.
Holly: I think I called you right when it was announced and we both just went, “Oh, my God! We just won a BAFTA!”
Kaleena: My name is on a statue.
What were some challenges in getting the book adapted into a film?
Kaleena: Well, the book – the adaptation, the original one by Richard Cowan came to us fully formed. It was a really strong script and my business partner, John Lenic, and I took it to Robert Carlyle. He said, “Oh, no, I’ve read an adaptation of this book before. And I really like the book, but this isn’t really for me.” And this was the third time that this novella had been adapted.
So I guess the third time is a charm because I gave him the script and I said, “You know what? Reread it and see what you think.” I – I think I stalked him on four occasions, saying, “Have you read it? Have you read it? Have you read it? Have you read it?”
And he said, “No, no, I’m just not into it.” We had a meeting in person and I said, “What if you directed it?”
And that was sort of his light bulb moment, I believe. He went, “Oh!”
I said, “Because then you can really control where it goes.” And so we worked on the script, once he said yes, with Richard Cowan and developed it for about six months. Then we decided to add a Scottish writer to sort of “Glaswegian” it up to really meet Carlyle’s vision for what he wanted the film to be. That’s when we brought on Colin McLaren, who is pretty much a god among men. He’s so cool.
Holly: He’s fantastic.
Kaleena: In fact, we’re working on his next film. I think it was another year and a bit working on it with Colin and Carlyle. I went to Glasgow and worked on it with them there. We did a bit by Skype and e-mail. When we were finally ready in September of 2013, we sent it to Emma Thompson. She was always our first choice for playing Cemolina. I’m not kidding; three days later she was like, “I’m in. Let’s do it.”
That was a hustle of “Oh, my Gosh, we have to start putting together all the other pieces.” Around that time, Holly came in and she became part of the team. Between us, it was go, go, go from November of 2013 until production. It was just nonstop.
Kaleena, you started out as an actress and now you’re a producer. What are some benefits of having people who are more versatile or well-rounded in the field?
Kaleena: I definitely can feel everybody’s perspective a little more intensely, because I’ve probably lived some version of it. I like to joke that as a producer, you’re really a triage nurse. All day long, people are coming to you and saying, “I’m bleeding, I’m bleeding!” You know, you’ve got the costume department about to mutiny. Then you’ve got the electrics and they don’t have enough manpower. All of this, it’s like the end of their world.
And you want them to care for their piece of the puzzle, but you also have to stay calm and say, “All right, I know you’re bleeding, but these six other people are also bleeding, so I’ve got to figure out who needs stitches first. But don’t worry, we’re gonna see you.” I think because I’ve worked in so many different departments, I have a better sense of how you speak the language of whichever department is bleeding the most.
Did both of you go over to Glasgow?
Kaleena: Yes, we were roommates in Glasgow and we still like each other!
You got to know each other well.
Kaleena: We did!
Was there a food shop you wanted to try or turned out to be your favorite in Glasgow?
Kaleena: The food, that’s an easy one!
Holly: Yeah, Hanoi Bike Shop.
Kaleena: Hanoi Bike Shop, shout out to them.
Holly: Vietnamese place and it’s so amazing. We ate there a few times a week for the three months that we were living there.
Kaleena: And it was sort of fusion –
Holly: It was like modern –
Kaleena: And full of Scottish women with crazy-colored hair and tattoos.
Holly: And the defrocked priest.
Kaleena: Oh, we met a defrocked priest there. So I gotta say Glasgow was full of characters. It’s a very edgy town and just shooting there was amazing. We would have parades of people coming through our set. It’s similar to Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland. There’s very much a contingent of the different religions in Scotland. So we would have these Orange parades come through our set. That was weird. I gotta say, Glasgow is definitely a character in our script and in the real world. There were a lot of moments when we were like, “Oh, that happened.” [laughs]
This article was originally published on Blogcritics.org under the same title.