Toast Of Douglas… MINDHORN Reviewed

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Barratt gets the David Hess role in the upcoming House On The Edge Of The Park reboot…

Directed by Sean Foley
Produced by Jack Arbuthnott, et al
Written by Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Edited by Mark Everson
Cinematography by David Luther
Music by Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes
Special FX by Niall Trask
Starring Julian Barrett, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Harriet Walter, Russell Tovey, Nicholas Farrell, David Schofield, Richard McCabe, Jessica Barden, Steve Coogan, Simon Callow, Sir Kenneth Branagh

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29/04/17 … another great night at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema. Kudos to Mayhem honchos Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil for procuring a Mindhorn preview and Q&A with its stars / creators Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh “jazz maverick”) and Simon Farnaby (known, chez Freudstein, as “that guy from Horrible Histories”). Thanks for the ticket, Chris.

I’d been looking forward to this one for a while. Inestimable anti-social media friend @CosiPerversa warned me that Bunny And The Bull from the same(ish) team was pretty rank stuff (and I’ve never had any cause to doubt his judgement) but the premise of this one was irresistible…

Julian Barrat is Richard Thorncroft who was Mindhorn, a much-loved ’80s TV detective who used his bionic lie-detecting eye (don’t ask!), not to mention his mastery of Brazilian martial art Capoeira and his lady killing charm, to get to the bottom of various crimes on the Isle Of Man every week. Thorncroft was habitually beastly to his stunt double Clive Parnevik (Farnaby) and – his ego swollen by a Hollywood offer that never came to anything – he rubbished his screen side-kick Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan) and the IOM itself during a particularly drunken appearance on Wogan, with predictably disastrous career consequences. A quarter of a Century later, “the fame has faded and the waistline has expanded” (welcome to my world, pal!) He’s lost his hair as well (at least I’m hanging on to mine) and he’s been reduced to advertising man corsets and orthopaedic socks (though John Nettles has just bumped him off of that gig.) Just to exacerbate Thorncroft’s discomfort, Mindhorn was replaced with a spin-off series showcasing the exploits of Windjammer, the character played by Eastman, who’s now doing very nicely indeed for himself.

Opportunity knocks (probably for the final time) on our boy’s door when a murder occurs on the Isle Of Man and the unbalanced Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who identifies himself as “The Kestrel”, warns that there’ll be more unless he gets to speak to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. Hopeful of reviving both his career and his relationship with former co-star Patricia Deville (the lovely Essie Davis, below), Thorncroft gets on the first ferry out of Liverpool and proceeds to make a total arse of himself with the local cops (flinty faced David Schofield and the bemused Andrea Riseborough.)  Along the way he has humiliating run ins with Eastman and the perennially buff Parnevik, who is now shacked up with Patricia. Ironic that the bionic eyed dick couldn’t see any of this coming…

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Every bit as deluded as his nut-job fan (who at least has the excuse of a learning disability), Thorncroft embarks on a redemptive journey (I’m only sticking that “character journey” shit in there to wind up Mrs F, whose current least favourite metaphor it happens to be) and we actually start rooting for the dopey no-hoper as the penny drops that several key characters are not quite what they seem. Along the way, of course, the cruel ironies and comic complications multiply exponentially…

Barratt and Farnaby allegedly spent ten years working on the script of Mindhorn and it wasn’t a waste of a decade. On top of a firm, fun premise (into which elements of Toast Of London, The Six Million Dollar Man, Bergerac, Shoestring and others have been shoe-horned) the gags are scattered thick and fast. It ain’t exactly Spinal Tap or Airplane, but if you were beginning to think that the words “British”, “screen” and “comedy” were mutually excluded from appearing in the same sentence, Mindhorn will certainly disabuse you of that notion… it’s everything that Coogan’s recent output has aspired, in vain, to be. Barratt and Farnaby’s central roles aren’t too much of a stretch from anything you’ve seen them in previously but the rest of the cast (which also includes Harriet Walter as Thorncroft’s two-faced agent, Richard McCabe as his dissolute publicist and bit-parting Ken Branagh and Simon Callow) are uniformly excellent. The Mindhorn memorabilia and “clips” from the TV show are a particular treat. I hope they manage some of the mooted spin-offs… at least a Mindhorn TV episode as an extra on the DVD release? We’ll, er, see…

Hats off to rookie feature director Sean Foley. Christ knows why they thought he could pull it off, but he did. One quibble… I’m too much of a technical ignoramus to work out if the film was in some way misprojected, but the cinematography of David Luther (an ASC award nominee!) made parts of it look like it was shot on VHS… and I’m not talking about the retro stuff that’s supposed to look like it’s on VHS!

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Barratt and Farnaby’s Q&A (ably moderated by Sheil) was every bit as amusing as you’d expect, though a little different from most of those I’ve attended, which have overwhelmingly featured horror / exploitation film makers. When faced with a question that’s been, frankly, a bit dumb, those guys always seemed to be tying themselves in knots, in defiance of audience giggles, to dignify it with a straight answer. Barratt and Farnaby, as comedians, took the alternative course of amplifying the dumbness of certain questions and milking them for maximum comic effect. It has to be said that some of the questioners were asking for it but I still felt vaguely uncomfortable. Then again, Freud argued that humour was intimately connected with the discharge of uncomfortable emotions… and you know Sigmund Freud wouldn’t shit you about something like that.

One thing that did become apparent, because Farnaby told us, was that Parnevik’s accent was supposed to be Dutch. Later in the session he attempted a Leeds accent that was similarly wide of the mark. Admittedly his Geordie is spot on (and was mercilessly deployed to take the piss out of Ridley Scott), then again he is a native of County Durham. Ah well, nobody’s perfect. The Q&A was enlivened by the presence of one Isle Of Man refugee (who conceded that all the flak it gets in the film falls under the category of fair comment) and an actual capoeira practitioner who (rather generously) complimented Barratt on his rendition of this esoteric Brazilian martial arts / dance crossover discipline. Oh, and there were plenty of cake-based cracks concerning Noel Fielding’s latest career move, too.

Never forget… you can’t handcuff the wind.

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The late Keith Moon leads The Who in spooky ’70s anticipation of Mindhorn’s capoeira moves…

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