Welcome to the action TV show capital of the world; The Isle of Mann, home to Mindhorn, a sexy genius crime fighting detective who, with the help of a special robotic eye, can literally “see the truth”. Played by legendary actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) it was the Isle of Mann’s most successful show and in the 80s, times were good.
For Thorncroft had it all. Stardom. A beautiful girlfriend, Patricia (Essie Davis). An incredible car. A supporting actor, Peter Eastman, to look down on (Steve Coogan). A sleazy and pathetic stunt man, Clive (Simon Farnaby) to disregard and a glittering Hollywood career on the horizon.
Fast forward to now and Thorncroft is in the pits. Unemployed and unemployable the world cares little for the woes of washed up 80s TV actors. His dreams of Hollywood all those years ago came to nought. He lives in a flat in Walthamstow. His ex-girlfriend and co-star is now a TV journalist and living with his old sleazy stunt double. The supporting actor once hidden in Thorncroft’s shadow is now wildly successful and star of the Isle of Mann’s new biggest show ever, ‘Windbreaker’. Stardom is a thing of the past.
Thorncroft needs a gig and he needs it fast save that he falls into obscurity. So when a ruthless criminal, going by the alias Kestrel contacts police back on the Isle of Mann and will only speak to the fictional detective Mindhorn, Thorncroft’s agent (Harriet Walter) sees an opportunity to raise his public profile and present this new “matured like a fine wine” Thorncroft to the world.
“A man could get drunk on that wine.”
If you’ve ever seen ‘Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place’, ‘The Mighty Boosh’ or ‘Nathan Barley’ there is a great deal to love in Mindhorn. Julian Barrett’s Thorncroft is utterly tragic and completely lovable. Barrett’s willingness to position himself as the butt of every joke is part of why we love him so much. But never is the balance uneven.
We don’t over-empathise with Thorncroft as just as we’re take pity on his shambles of a life, we’re recoiling in equal disgust at his tactless, antiquated social etiquette, which are shrugged off brilliantly by the supporting cast for the modern faux pa’s they are. He comes across as one of those Dad’s who fancied himself a bit of a crooner back in the day. The kind you couldn’t get off stage during a pissed karaoke session down the local Labour club after Sunday afternoon football.
Brilliant in equal measure is co-writer Simon Farnaby, who you may remember from the Boosh episode ‘Power of the Crimp’ as greasy stunt double Clive Parnevik, who had lusted after Patricia back in the glory days and since Thorncroft left has wriggled his way into her bed. Mostly topless and in cut-off jean shorts he also has the aura of an embarrassing Father who honestly thinks he’s all that. They have some fantastic exchanges and it’s evident in some moments just how much fun they must have had writing this.
Sure, Mindhorn is full or completely ridiculous moments that are there for fans of Barrett and Farnaby’s earlier work, but director Sean Foley does brilliantly to keep the madness from spiralling out of control. The narrative is grounded in a brilliant supporting cast, notably the always fantastic Essie Davis as Patricia, Thorncroft’s old flame, 80s TV actress and now TV tabloid journalist. She’s on point here as an equally misguided and stereotypical product of 80s stardom, equally endearing and regrettable as she awaits her last hurrah, life put on hold because of the selfishness of her ex-husband.
Mindhorn is a hugely entertaining movie and prime fodder for Boosh and Barrett fans. It could have so easily spiralled out of control and played solely to the fans, but it keeps a level head throughout, sticking true to it’s subject and reigning in it’s creators surrealist tendencies. As a result, we’ve got a sort of ‘Gareth Marenghi’ for grown ups. A feature for the fans that have aged along with its writers. Despite the zany subject matter and crack-pot scenarios, there is an honesty to the film. A maturity that serves it very well. A great addition to Barley pantheon that stands on it’s own two feet.