Beta Papa: ‘Mindhorn’ (DVD/Blu-Ray) reviewed

❉ “It’s truth time!” A promising directorial debut from Sean Foley.

Richard Thorncroft, a washed up actor, is called up for service again to reprise his character to trap a deranged killer. Thorncroft’s only success an Eighties TV show about a detective with a bionic lie-detecting eye. Sort of Bergerac crossed with an ITC Sixties or Seventies film series, Mindhorn as a fictional series and as a film is a loving peon to the world of the acting industry, cult television and the curious pathos of its location. Naturally, as a washed up actor from the Isle of Man myself, I saw the trailers with a mixture of fascination and terror. Why the hell wasn’t I in it? And would it be heartbreakingly awful, or staggeringly wonderful?

Mindhorn is pretty watchable, and has quite a few really lovely scenes, particularly when it plays with archive style footage and merchandise. The celebrity cameos up front are lovely (Branagh and Callow in quick succession) and of all the movies shot on the Isle of Man, few really showcase it as it really is in the way this film does. The Laxey Wheel (I got vertigo going up there as a kid, too), the crow’s nest of the Sea Terminal, the Hilton hotel…

I do wonder how they come across to people not au fait with the location. They’re certainly shot well. While Thorncroft’s disastrous drunken chat show interview, Ollie Reed style, echoes Danny Dyer’s choice words of disdain for the place, overall the Isle of Man comes out of mildly teased on occasion but largely well – there is no ‘Whiskey Galore’ or Doctor Who’s ‘Green Death/Terror of the Zygons’ cultural annihilation here.

It’s director Sean Foley’s first film, crossing media having acted and directed theatre before  – I loved his production of The Ladykillers in 2012 (with one Peter Capaldi, no less – how I remember watching him and thinking, “wouldn’t he be a great Master in Doctor Who one day!”). Given his excellent background, this is a promising debut on screen, albeit with a few pacing issues here and there.

Julian Barratt as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn.

Given his theatre background, it’s pretty well cast – Julian Barratt as Mindhorn himself is always a likeable actor, albeit basically Howard Moon. So too is almost-lookalike and stunt double, Simon Farnaby – the pair wrote the script. Farnaby’s comedy Dutch is broad and awkward, and probably funnier if you’re not marrying in to the Netherlands – but he does make me laugh nonetheless.  (I’m from the Isle of Man, I’ve got a Dutch partner, I’m a washed up actor with an interest in cult series – can I sue yet?).  David Schofield is excellent and as Chief Inspector Newsome has a face as Manx as the hills, so I wondered if he was from there originally. Russel Tovey is rather good – big and broad too, but fun – as ‘the Kestrel’, too.

Coogan’s also great, when Thorncroft finally tracks him down. Andrea Riseborough, Essie Davies and Harriet Walter all do excellent work with their parts, too. So the cast is no problem.

If Mindhorn doesn’t quite work, it’s partially because Cruise of the Gods (also with Steve Coogan) already did a rather good job with “washed up actors from cult series, and crazy fans” quite some time ago, and more recently, Alpha Papa mined similar material. Mostly though, the tonal u-turns don’t always come off perfectly – a particular problem for the ending, even if it recovers slightly.

It seems to have had a rocky development, as is often the case with indie film these days – in the can quite some time ago, passed around in search of a distributor, on Netflix in other regions, cinema here and finally physical media. This may be a result of too many cooks – Scott Free, Baby Cow for BBC, IOM Films, Pinewood and the BFI are all producers. Given that list of forces that could have been pulling in various directions, it’s not too bad.

The end title song, “You Can’t Catch the Wind” is a lot of fun, too. Overall, Mindhorn is worth a watch, but it’s not quite in the same league as Hot Fuzz or others of its ilk.If you can visit the Isle of Man between May and September, by all means do – if you can’t, you’ll just get wind and rain, so watch this instead to get a flavour! Fastyr Mie.

Special Features

 – Commentary by Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby
– Mindhorn Featurette
– Film Shout Outs
– Thieves in the Cinema ad
– The Mind of Mindhorn
– Richard Thorncroft Interview
– Clive Parnevik Stunt Masterclass
– Music Video: ‘You Can’t Handcuff The Wind’ by Richard Thorncroft

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❉ ‘Mindhorn’ was released on EST from August 28 and on DVD and Blu-Ray from September 4, 88mins / Cert: 15.

❉ Cliff Chapman is an actor, writer, and from the Isle of Man but he doesn’t like to talk about it.

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