In actor Robert Carlyle’s directing debut, Emma Thompson is on bodacious form as an unconventional Glasgow matriarch, but not everyone’s a fan. One Scottish critic described the performance as “toe-curling” and “about as on the money as one would expect from a Londoner”. Woohoo, fighting talk! This black comedy — not so much bittersweet as bitter-bitter — is full of partisan slurs. A cockney character hates the Scots; they hate him back. Those who take cheap pot-shots at this film merely demonstrate how relevant the subject matter is.
The titular Barney (played by Carlyle) is an unpopular barber with a face like Grandpa Munster and the kind of stringy, horribly coagulated ponytail that cries out for the chop. Many people get dismembered during the course of the story (a serial killer is on the loose and one of Barney’s colleagues, too, is not long for this world). Yet the ponytail survives.
Barney, like his 77-year-old mother Cemolina (Thompson), swears like a trooper. The surprise is that, having created the kind of landscape that screams “You have arrived in Irvine Welsh territory”, Carlyle promptly heads for pastures new. Thank God for that.
In Welsh’s work, most notably Filth, female characters over the age of 40 are portrayed as pathetic, grotesque and marginal. Though undoubtedly macho, as well as self-defeatingly cruel, Cemolina is central to the plot — vital, sexy and widely adored. She’s a wonderful and unexpectedly moving creation.
Don’t listen to the haters. Cross-border collaborations can work.
Review by Charlotte O’Sullivan, Evening Standard