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Whistler Film Festival: ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’

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!”

Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle in his directorial debut, ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

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.

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson

Barney (Robert Carlyle) and Cemolina (Emma Thompson) at the dog track in ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

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.

Ray Winstone and Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone on the set of ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

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.

Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle. Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

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.

Final Cuts

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 with the same title. I added photos and made size adjustments.



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Interview with Robert Carlyle: ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’

Emily Alden, John Lenic, Robert Carlyle, and Richard Cowan

Emily Alden, John Lenic, Robert Carlyle, and Richard Cowan at the North American premiere of ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo: Pat Cuadros

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 »

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Whistler Film Festival: Spotlight on Robert Carlyle

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.

Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle at the Whistler Film Festival. Photo: Pat Cuadros

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 »

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‘Once Upon a Time’ Review: “The Bear and the Bow”

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

OUAT Promotional PhotoLast week, there were strong hints that Merida (Amy Manson), still under Emma’s control (Jennifer Morrison), would set a bulls-eye on Belle (Emilie de Ravin). Emma thinks that Rumple (Robert Carlyle) can become “a hero” and pull Excalibur out of the stone, but he’ll need some prompting. It’s the return of one of my favorite “versions” of Rumple; he’s regressed and gone full-on “coward” here. Training with Merida is not fruitful until she starts toying with him, bringing the teacup into the mix.

Merida’s relentless pursuit of freedom is contrasted with a flashback to Camelot a few weeks earlier, when Belle helps her rescue her brothers. Later episodes like this one are much better at weaving Merida’s history well with the Storybrooke characters. The rightful ruler wants Belle to brew a potion so she can terrify her enemies; Belle insists that Merida’s archery skills and bravery are really what matters, not magic. One of Merida’s greatest foe turns out to be her own guilt over her father’s death.

Flash forward to Storybrooke, Regina (Lana Parrilla), the Charmings (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas), Robin (Sean McGuire), and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) want to talk to Merlin (Elliott Knight) using the Crimson Crown. Arthur (Liam Garrian) agrees to help, but he tries to burn the toadstool and shows everyone he is not to be trusted. Regina realizes that Henry (Jared Gilmore) can forge the link, since he was also chosen by Merlin. “We’re getting Merlin’s voicemail?” Regina says incredulously as a Star Wars-like hologram plays. Merlin tells them that they need help from someone called “Nimue.” What happened to him when his message cut off?

The other small thread revolves around Emma and Zelena. The “Dark Swan,” as Zelena hails her, breaks the witch out and offers junk food from Granny’s. Zelena refuses to deal with Emma about the Apprentice’s wand, saying that unlike Emma, she doesn’t mind being alone. She also insists that Emma would be a “bad influence” on her baby. Will Zelena change her mind later?

And the Chase is on!

Predictably, Belle splits from Charmings & Co. early on, upset that no one wants to rescue Rumple. Rumple destroys the teacup and uses a piece to cut his bonds for an escape. The build-up with the elevator door is a stroke of brilliance, leaving us in suspense as the gears outside move at a painstaking sequence. Belle is ready with the fire extinguisher. The doors open to reveal Rumple, who made it back into town through the mines. He may not have magic, but he’s still crafty.

The dynamic here is so expertly maneuvered by Carlyle and de Ravin. Belle has seen a scared Rumple before, but he’s always been hiding behind the trappings of power and his anger. I would argue (at least onscreen) that she’s never met a completely powerless and scared Rumple (as merely a man). It’s almost a little jarring for her as they first speak in the library because here before her is the “man behind the monster:” so utterly apologetic and focused on her. She’s claimed in the past that she’s always seen the man in him, but would she really accept that part of him now that it’s right there before her?

Such momentarily doubts can be dispensed with, because she reassures him that she believes he is a hero. Her declaration horrifies him as he realizes their reunion was part of Emma’s plan. After prompting from Belle, he finally crosses the street with her to go to the pawn shop. Merida bursts in with her bow for a fight, a scene amazingly shot with the arrow narrowly missing Belle through the door. Belle pulls the rug from under Merida to knock her out when she and Rumple are cornered.

Arguably, the most surprising scene is by the town line. Those two should just stay away from the town line, because usually something disastrous happens because Rumple is … well, the way he is. Rumple tries to convince Belle to leave town with him. Rumple insists that he’s a coward, that he broke his foot because he was afraid to die. I am not sure whether that’s the whole truth, since Rumplestiltskin does lie. The Bae arc and Rumple’s quest to get him back was such a huge part of the series. Whatever the case, here is he just focused on saving himself this particular evening? Rumple’s cowardice infuriates Belle, who leaves the Cadillac and walks toward Storybrooke.

This time, the potion Merida drinks is the real bear-changing brew. Bear Merida is obviously CGI, but the quality on that creature is quite good and utterly scary! Belle runs for it. (How does Rumple catch up with the limp? Belle appears to have gone quite a distance through the woods.) Rumple saves her life, throwing the magic dust into Bear Merida’s mouth to reverse the transformation. They return to his former prison, where he deals for Merida’s heart with Emma. He pulls out Excalibur and throws it to the ground. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, targeting Belle is a grave mistake for anyone trying to get to Rumple. That bite in Rumple is back as he warns Emma, “You’ve turned me into a hero” and he’s different than other heroes.

Overall, “Bear and the Bow” is long overdue in reuniting Rumple and Belle. There are some great Emma-Zelena moments. The weakest part of this story is King Arthur. Yes, we know that’s he’s not to be trusted. Merlin’s story, on the other hand, is more compelling, particularly with a previous Dark One yet to be revealed.

Whether Rumple will team up with Charming & Co. remains to be seen. He might do so at Belle’s prompting. For the moment, his strongest alliance is with Belle, but that future is uncertain. Other than tonight, we have yet to see sustained and open teamwork between the two. But one has to wonder, is Rumplestiltskin truly done with the darkness?

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‘Once Upon a Time’ Recap – Arthur is No Friend in ‘The Broken Kingdom’

Arthur and Guinevere on "Once Upon a Time"

Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and Guinevere (Joana Metrass). Credit: ABC

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Intrigue builds on Once Upon a Time with an episode centered on the Camelot love triangle consisting of Arthur (Liam Garrigan), Guinevere (Joana Metrass), and Lancelot (Sinqua Walls). Arthur is obsessed with restoring the Excalibur sword, a mission that requires locating the dagger of the Dark One. His frenzied research leads him to miss his queen’s birthday party, practically throwing Guinevere into Lancelot’s arms. The queen and Lancelot go on their own search for the Dagger.

They gain entry to the vault of the Dark One and encounter Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), who gives Guinevere a vial of the Sands of Avalon as part of a deal. “Love is a weapon, Dearie, the most dangerous weapon of all,” he warns her. The dust can make anything broken appear whole again: a quality that backfires on the queen when she admits the truth to Arthur instead of fixing Excalibur.

Switch over to future Camelot, where Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) was recently initiated into the Knights of the Round Table. He and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) disagree whether to entrust the Dagger to Arthur. Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) brief presence at the marital spat is amusing, as she watches and then poofs out of the room on Snow’s insistence.  Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Once Upon a Time’ Actresses Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey, and Victoria Smurfit Are More About Fun Than Darkness

Caution: Spoilers about the fourth season of “Once Upon a Time.”

Awesome Con brought Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey, and Victoria Smurfit to Washington, D.C. this past weekend. The three actresses wreaked quite a bit of havoc in Storybrooke and Fairy Tale Land in the latest season of “Once Upon a Time” as Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella de Vil. Yet you’re more likely to count these three women among the most amiable professionals in the entertainment industry. So how is it that they are able to play dark roles with such talent?

Laughs Abound as Count Gore De Vol Interviews Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey and Victoria Smurfit at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Laughs Abound as Count Gore De Vol Interviews Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey and Victoria Smurfit at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

“It’s a freeing experience,” Victoria Smurfit chimes in, leaning toward one of the two microphones at the table. She sports long blond hair, a much different look than that of the number one enemy of dogs and dog lovers everywhere, Cruella de Vil.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Awesome Con Sure to Impress with ‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Teminator,’ William Shatner, and More

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Awesome Con in Washington, DC. The convention, which spans three days, originally promoted the arrival of all three members of the Pond family: Rory, Amy, and River from “Doctor Who.” Sadly, Karen Gillan had to bow out of her slated appearance, but it should still be a great time with Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston on hand for their respective panels, autograph sessions, and photo-ops. Perhaps the biggest question for “Who” fans is whether or not River Song will return, this time opposite Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor.

Tomorrow these halls will be teeming with Awesome Con attendees.

Tomorrow these halls will be teeming with Awesome Con attendees. (Photo: Pat Cuadros)

While the Pond family is a big highlight of the upcoming weekend, it’s hardly the main event, as many other exciting guests will be present.  Here’s a rundown of panelists that you should check out, if you’re coming to DC:

William Shatner and George Takei

Need I say more? These “Star Trek” legends will undoubtedly pay their respects to the late Leonard Nimoy and also subject the crowds to their unique brand of humor.

Queens of Darkness

Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey, and Victoria Smurfit share their insights and answer questions about “Once Upon a Time.” Unfortunately, two other “queens of darkness,” Lana Parrilla and Rebecca Mader, won’t be making an appearance. Zelena’s status in a role of evil is not up for debate, but it seems Regina is a hero with the events of the most recent series.

Michael Biehn

This actor was in the very first “Terminator” film: the one that started the entire franchise. He’ll likely address the upcoming “Genisys” release.

Sean Astin and John Rhys-Davies

That’s Sam and Gimli from “Lord of the Rings.” I don’t think I need to elaborate on this panel. Even Frodo and Legolas fans should attend.

There are many more sessions to keep you entertained: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Starship Troopers,” “Dexter,” and even the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoon series. So maybe you didn’t get tickets to San Diego Comic Con, but as Awesome Con demonstrates, you don’t have to be in San Diego to spot your favorite actors from the hottest televisions shows and films.

Come back early next week, when I report back with highlights about Awesome Con.

To purchase tickets and for a full list of the programming schedule, visit the Awesome Con website.

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