Barney Thomson

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Barney Thomson Movie Poster Image
Uneven dark comedy about a barber and a serial killer.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Barney tries to do the right thing, even though he seems thwarted at every turn. In the end, he stays true to his beliefs and lets the people around him drag themselves down.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Barney is far from perfect, but his heart's in the right place, which means he's pretty much the only character with an interest in doing the right thing. By the end, that's what helps him to get ahead while almost everyone else has been brought down by their own flaws.


Two scenes include accidental killings, neither of which is especially violent or gruesome. But a key part of the film centers on a serial killer who dismembers victims, and quite a lot of body parts are shown, sometimes wrapped in plastic and sometimes out in the open -- including a close-up of a severed penis. Fighting.


Almost every character swears a blue streak in nearly every scene, especially "f--k," "s--t," and variations thereof.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some main characters smoke frequently.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Barney Thomson is a dark comedy that tries to blend a serial killer mystery with a tale about a hapless, barely employed barber (Robert Carlyle) who has a domineering mother (Emma Thompson). Expect a few on-screen deaths that aren't especially violent in and of themselves, but there are also a lot of dismembered body parts on display (including a man's genitals). Some characters smoke cigarettes, and just about everyone swears pretty much constantly (mostly "f--k" and "s--t"). On the upside, in the end, the main character stays true to his beliefs and tries to do the right thing.

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What's the story?

BARNEY THOMSON (Robert Carlyle) is a barber -- not an especially good one -- who's been working at the same Glasgow shop for most of his life, so he gets thrown for a loop when he realizes he's about to lose his job. Overwhelmed, Barney gets into a tussle with the shop's manager, leaving his boss unexpectedly dead. Meanwhile, the local police force is stymied by a mysterious serial killer who's been dismembering victims and leaving body parts all over town. When Thomson turns to his mother, Cemolina (Emma Thompson), for help, they suddenly become suspects in this dark comedy that marks Carlyle's directorial debut.

Is it any good?

Creating a dark comedy like this is a challenge, requiring a film to straddle the line between shock and laughter -- and Carlyle gets close. Barney Thomson the character is a bit of a sad sack: middle-aged, set to lose his job, unmarried, unmoored, and with only his mother to turn to for help (which she's not very gracious about it). Barney Thomson the movie is almost as muddled as it tries to make Thomson into a sympathetic character.

There are funny parts -- even having a serial killer who likes to send random body parts through the mail doesn't tip the film into horror -- but the main flaw is that we're not given much reason to care about what happens to Thomson. Carlyle does a fine job playing a highly uncharismatic man, and Thompson is even better as a truly frightful and unpleasant mother, but their good acting only highlights that there's not much about the characters to hold our attention. (Plus, the fact that Thompson is only two years older than her on-screen son is kind of distracting!)

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role that violence plays in Barney Thomson. How does the comic tone affect how it makes you feel? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • What does it take to make a comedy about a serial killer? How does this film compare to other dark comedies that wring laughs out of heavy subjects?

  • What do you think about Barney's relationship with his mother? Is she a good parent? What does the film say about the role that parents can play in their adult children's lives?

  • Emma Thompson is nearly the same age as Robert Carlyle but plays his mother here. How do you feel about that kind of casting?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy and scares

Themes & Topics

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