Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) has not been with a bird since Shakin’ Stevens was number one on the charts. At the Glasgow barbers salon where he is meant to cut hair, nobody will get in his chair because he is such a bad-tempered, abusive ‘piece of shite’. But is his miserable grey existence enough to turn him into a serial killer? Maybe yes, maybe no, as a chain of surreal events put Barney in the frame as the prime suspect in the investigation of unsolved murders that include ghastly body mutilations and amputations. Holdall (Ray Winstone), the Sassenach detective who is a fish out of water north of the border, is convinced that Barney is his man, but he can’t nail him, much to the chagrin of his tetchy superior, Inspector Robertson (Ashley Jensen). Barney doesn’t help his own cause by taking a number of ill-considered options when in a jam, and matters are further complicated for him when he resorts to seeking help from his mother Cemolina (Emma Thomson), who has indulged in some bizarre activities of her own. In his first gig as a feature-length director, Carlyle has come up with a comedy as dour and dark as only the Scots, you’d have to think, are capable of producing.
The dialogue is sometimes incomprehensible – subtitles will be essential if it is ever screened in America – but never to the point that you don’t understand what is going on. Best of all, the superb cast are clearly having the time of their lives. Carlyle is in his element as the angry little man who doesn’t get on with the world, Winstone playing the jaded, frustrated Cockney cop, does his usual shtick, and it is great to see Tom Courtenay as Superintendent McManaman. But it’s Thomson who steals the show. Barely recognisable at first, her accent sounds perfect as Cemolina’s crudity is laid on with a trowel. Beaucoup de thanks to the Pighouse for providing this as an alternative to Suicide Squad – I loved it.