BFI London Film Festival: Mindhorn

Directed by Sean Foley
Starring Julian Barratt, Andrea Riseborough, Essie Davis, Russell Tovey, Simon Farnaby, Richard McCabe, David Schofield, Nicholas Farrell, Jessica Barden, Robin Morrissey, Harriet Walter, Simon Callow and Steve Coogan

by Richard Hamer

In festival season, when there’s so much to see and so little time, there can be a dozen different reasons to choose one film to watch over another: Sometimes it’s because you’ve always been a fan of the director. Sometimes it’s the ‘Oscar buzz’ that develops around a title. And just sometimes, it’s because you’re randomly leafing through a programme guide and you find a movie with the premise: “A fading actor can redeem himself by reprising his 80s TV role as a sleuth with a robotic truth-telling eye”

Enter: Mindhorn.

Written by and starring Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh, it does indeed tell the story of Richard Thorncroft, once famed as Detective Mindhorn, the finest law enforcement officer on The Isle of Man (which, for some reason, makes it funnier), now aging and irrelevant. When a real-life, deranged killer insists on speaking only to the long-since-cancelled fictional detective, Thorncroft is called into action. For Richard, it’s an opportunity; not just to generate some much-needed exposure, but also a chance to rekindle his relationship with old flame and co-star Patricia Deville (Essie Davis). There’s a potentially interesting message to unpack at the core of Mindhorn, as real-life tragedy becomes quickly subsumed in a torrent of petty celebrity squabbling that takes in everyone from Thorncroft’s former agent, to his stunt man, to his far more successful co-stars.

But mostly, Mindhorn is just very funny and silly. While not as thoroughly surreal as The Mighty Boosh, it shares with it that same flair for bizarre sight gags and turns of phrase that throw you off guard enough to leave you laughing without really understanding why. I, for example, have been laughing at the thought of a phone made out of Play-Doh for about three days straight, and it doesn’t even rank as one of the top fifty best jokes in the film.

As you might expect, the premise allows Mindhorn to get a lot of material out of recreations of cheap 80s TV action, Thorncroft himself portrayed as some naff combination of Tom Selleck, David Hasselhoff and John Nettles out of Bergerac, excessively groomed and brimming with unearned arrogance. Julian Barratt proves himself more than able in the lead role, creating a character with obvious parallels to David Brent and Alan Partridge, but not beholden to them: His Richard Thorncroft feels surprisingly grounded, sufficiently self aware of his own pathetic condition as to be both pitiable and strangely likeable.

That being said, Mindhorn explores comedic territory perhaps a little too well explored already to ever become anything truly memorable, truly new. There are strong shades of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and even Galaxy Quest in both character and premise, and the whole recreating awful 80s TV thing – while undeniably effective – has quite an established tradition through the likes of Look Around You and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. So while it couldn’t be said that it innovates British comedy in any way, Mindhorn is very good at what it does.





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