Film Review – ‘Mindhorn’ (2016)

Much in the same vein as ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’, ‘Mindhorn’ plays through a narrative that is a retrospective of a fictional cult television series.


Julian Barratt stars as Richard Thorncroft, whose television career has dwindled since his lead role in hit 80’s show ‘Mindhorn’ – in which Thorncroft acted as the detective with a robotic eye allowing him to literally “see the truth”. Decades later, and Isle of Man police require the assistance of the jaded actor Thorncroft, as a murderer (played by Russell Tovey) has deranged notions that the TV series is real and demands to speak to detective Mindhorn.


The humour is derived from Thorncroft’s ego and his inability to land serious acting work. His retreat into his former guise from a cheap cartoonish detective show, is only further evidence of his desperate attempts to step back into the spotlight. There are true Alan Partridge levels of egomania in this. Speaking of which, Steve Coogan gets a role here too as Peter Eastman – an actor who has managed to build a reputation Thorncroft is ultimately jealous of.


Written by Barratt and Simon Farnaby (who also stars as Clive Parnevik), the dialogue and narrative details are well considered. The film is principally set on the Isle of Man. This is something that echoes the lead’s frustration with escaping his first character, escaping that setting, and indeed escaping his own roots.


There have been many television comedies getting transferred onto the big screen in recent years. From ‘The Office’ Ricky Gervais reprised his role in ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’ (2016). Established Coogan vehicle Alan Partridge returned in ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ (2013). Elsewhere Sacha Baron Cohen has made several films from characters created for television. So often it feels like this writing isn’t best suited to a feature length run time. British comedy is so often produced to meet a thirty minute run time. It is therefore perhaps best loved on television in this format.


It is obvious and fundamental that ‘Mindhorn’ takes a character from a fictional TV series, that never existed. There are two sides to this coin. At first the lack of prior knowledge and narrative ark (in the series) is mostly unknown. This allows us to imagine just how silly and nonsensical it is, via the hints and references in the world of the film. There is a danger though, that the silliness goes too far, and by the end of the film it becomes overly erratic.


The problem is that the humour comes from what we might expect the fictional show to be comprised of. If the show format is over-explained to us, the jokes pack less punch. There’s a possibility that the end of the film may even become a real life episode of the show. Thankfully, there are enough additional narrative layers and references to offset the foolishness of the detective character. The intelligence and insight in the writing has gone into what Richard Thorncroft thinks and feels, and that’s where the true flair is in the feature as a whole.


‘Mindhorn’ is released digitally on 28th August, and then on Blu-Ray and DVD on 4th September.

Zach Roddis | [rating=4]

Comedy | UK, 2017 | 15 |28th August (UK Digital) 4th September 2017 (UK DVD)| Studiocanal | Dir.Sean Foley | Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Simon Farnaby | Buy:[Blu-ray]

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