Mindhorn

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Me and one of my closest friends have a habit of calling each other sir in everyday conversation. It comes specifically from an episode of the Mighty Boosh, in which Howard Moon and Vince Noir are met by a pair of Doppelgangers called the Flighty Zeus who are out to copy their act. Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) develops a quick rivalry with Harold Boom (Simon Farnaby) in which they politely taunt each other whilst referring to one another as sir.

Mindhorn reunites Julian Barratt with Simon Farnaby as writing partners for a big screen comedy set almost completely on the Isle of Man.

Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) is an ageing down on his luck actor living in London. He was once famous for playing TV detective Mindhorn in the 80s, basically Bergerac but set on the Isle of Man, who thanks to a cybernetic implant to his left eye can literally ‘see the truth’. Which you’d think would make for a kind of dull detective show.

20 years after he took off the eye patch, Detective Mindhorn is called back into service, after an obsessive fan turned serial killer known as the Kestrel (Russell Tovey) demands he will only speak to the TV detective. With little acting opportunity around him, Thorncroft heads back to the Isle of Man, in the hopes that he can revive his career and turn his involvement with the police investigation as a positive PR piece.

In returning, Thorncroft is suddenly confronted by the ghosts of his past, ex wife Patricia (Essie Davis), former stuntman turned love rival and Dutch person, Clive (Simon Farnaby), former colleagues who haven’t moved on from the 80s coke addled party scene and more successful TV actors who rose to prominence after their Mindhorn spinoff became immensely popular and ran for 16 seasons (Steve Coogan). Can Thorncroft as Mindhorn solve the case and rectify all the mistakes he made in the past?

You’d certainly hope so.

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Julian Barratt spends most of the film in a suit. Simon Farnaby spends most of it in a pair of denim shorts.

Steve Coogan appears in the movie in a small role but he is very much the godfather of this style of cringeworthy British tragi-comedy and has obviously had a hand in producing some of Julian Barratt’s previous work as the Mighty Boosh. There is much of Alan Partridge in Mindhorn in how it revolves around an ageing self-obsessed person of the media desperately trying to stay relevant in a world that would rather forget him. Written by Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, Mindhorn follows the template of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. With little man going out of his depth meddling with big things that he can’t possibly contain within a particular part of the UK.

Though Thorncroft is the head idiot, he is surrounded by characters who seek to belittle him and wrong him in more ways than one, which like Partridge, makes the character slightly more sympathetic. Just as Alpha Papa rather successfully brought out the cinematic potential of Norfolk, Mindhorn does the same for The Isle of Man, as much a character and foil to the Thorncroft as the human cast. One of the first laughs in the screening I attended was simply the Isle of Man Film logo coming up in the titles. Throughout the movie, many of what must be the Isle of Man’s favourite tourist attractions are featured in set pieces.

The plot is always going to be secondary to the humour with this kind of movie. If you are a fan of Julian Barratt’s previous work, there is much to like in Mindhorn. The actual footage from the television show ‘Mindhorn’ carries much of that retro-comic-naffness of Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place in which he played the padre. It is established within the film’s backstory, that Thorncroft attempted to launch a musical career post Mindhorn resulting in the single: “You Can’t Handcuff the Wind” which bears similarities to Matt Berry’s “One Track Lover”. During the start when the movie is introducing Mindhorn as a television show, all the actors speak in gushing praise of the show, in a way that is reminscent to the way Garth Marenghi and Dean Learner talked about Darkplace.

For Boosh fans, Mindhorn isn’t as surreal or 4th wall breaking as the Mighty Boosh. Though it’s impossible to shake the similarities between Thorncroft with Howard Moon due to Barratt’s style of comedy acting. There is an inflated sense of self on the surface, but you only need a pin to expose all the latent tragedy and regret that comes tumbling like manure from a wheelbarrow. Both characters are actors, but whilst Howard was perhaps looking for acceptance whilst making art being something of an uncool pretentious buffoon, Thorncroft is just looking for acceptance in the form of fame, which has led him into making mistakes in which he has unwittingly shunned everyone who was once close to him.

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When the film decides to encase Barratt into this freakish envisioning of Thorncroft’s TV alter ego. It’s impossible not to think of some of the Boosh’s more bizarre creations – it’s as if Rudi van Disarzio had been made up by the Crack Fox.

I’ve been a fan of Julian Barratt for many years now, so of course I was excited to see Mindhorn. I’m not sure whether I can speak to all the people who are less aware of the Mighty Boosh or Nathan Barley. I guess there’s a question that surfaces with all these kinds of tragi-comedies from Alan Partridge to David Brent, why should you care for a character so pathetic as Richard Thorncroft?

They say every man is an island, rooted to the earth and somewhat inaccessible, though only an island if you look at it from the water. Richard Thorncroft is a man who had thought himself to be this kind of island now stuck on the Isle of Man along with the ghosts of his past. This makes Mindhorn sound more profound than it is. It’s a movie with plenty of laughs, tinged with tragedy and a trace of the darkly absurd of one unacceptable’s man’s quest for acceptance.

Mindhorn is a fairly conventional British comedy in the vein of Alan Partridge with just enough of Julian Barratt’s leftfield comedic prowess to make it rise above its premise. The jokes come thick and fast, though barbed with a hint of cringe from which you can’t quite look away from. As a big fan of Julian Barratt, I found much to like and enjoy with Mindhorn.

If nothing else, it will make you want to visit the Isle of Man. 

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