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Review: Mad To Be Normal – “A storming performance by David Tennant”

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David Tennant stars as the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, also known as the British Timothy Leary and the “Acid Marxist,” in the film Mad To Be Normal. A controversial figure during the sixties and a favourite of the counterculture movement, he is a fascinating character. His aim was to create a safe haven for people diagnosed with psychosis and schizophrenia, where there were no locks on the doors and no antipsychotic drugs were used. A great believer in the use of LSD (which was legal at the time his center, Kingsley Hall opened) and having the carers living with the patients in a safe haven, there is so much to use in a film about his life.

David Tennant does an amazing performance bringing him to life. He fully embraces the passion, intensity, compassion, arrogance and great charisma of the man who was loved by many and disliked by others. He is surrounded by a great supporting cast – Elisabeth Moss plays Robert’s wife Angie Wood who ends up wanting a family and creates conflict amongst his patients and his ideals. At times that did feel a bit cliche, but Moss did great things with the character.

Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon play two of the patients in Kingsley Hall and are our viewpoint as to the effects of Laing’s controversial treatment. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Both Byrne and Gambon work wonders in their roles, with Byrne in particular starting off quiet and building throughout the film to be a roaring force of nature.

Robert Mullan directs the film extremely well. Everything has a warm glow about it and that feeling of being back in the Sixties, but that almost mythical flower power Sixties that works so well on screen. There is also a cracking soundtrack, featuring many great songs from the time period.

A thoroughly engrossing film about an incredible person who I knew very little about.

The main problem with the film is that it lacks focus. It covers a lot of ground and did feel like it could have taken its time a little more to just build on the events and characters taking place. Maybe just have it look at one year in his life. As I mentioned above, the storyline with his wife felt like something we had seen many time in biopics and dramas. It seemed simply there to build conflict in the story, even though there were problems in his family life due to his dedication to Kinglsey Hall. At times it felt forced and I wished they had done it in a more subtle or different way. If the script had just been a little tighter then we could have had a classic on our hands. Then the ending just…..well I wish they had done the ending differently.

However, the storming performance by Tennant just carries you along and you could well imagine him helping people just by talking to them.

Mad To Be Normal opens on 6th April 2017.

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