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Review: David Tennant offers the charisma of R.D. Laing in Mad To Be Normal

PUBLISHED: 09:44 07 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:44 07 April 2017

David Tennant as psychiatrist R.D. Laing and Elizabeth Moss in Mad To Be Normal. Picture: Gizmo Films

David Tennant as psychiatrist R.D. Laing and Elizabeth Moss in Mad To Be Normal. Picture: Gizmo Films

Archant

Robert Mullan’s film is maddeningly lax, rambling and even a touch self indulgent by saved by cast that also includes Gabriel Byrne, Elisabeth Moss and Michael Gambon.

Mad To Be Normal (15)

***

In a modern day film about the sixties, the sixties period detail is often a potent signifier. In say, X-Men: First Class it communicates a sense of lost glamour; while in the Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side it suggests the sense of a scuzzy demi-world where the glamour of the swinging social revolution clashed with the drab reality of England outside swinging Chelsea and the West End.

The sixties period detail in this film about R.D. Laing is positively Withnailian, and it seems to signify a period of flux, a window of opportunity where any charismatic chancer could create a swirl around themselves that could pass for revolutionary in the absence of any perspective.

Laing was a psychiatrist who became a real counter culture figure; partly through his refusal to use drugs to treat mental illness. With his paisley shirts, unconventional approach, free thinking attitudes, cool sounding initials and string of “and then Timothy Leary said to me” anecdotes, Laing could well qualify as one of those sixties figures who seemed like a visionary during chat show appearances but most of whose reputation has failed to make it through the journey down the last half century.

Robert Mullan’s film concentrates on the last half of the sixties where Laing ran an institution at Kingsley House in the East End where patients and doctors lived together communally and there was no treatment other than talking to patients and trying to understand them.

The film’s approach to narrative would surely meet with the institutions approval: nothing is too structured, nothing is forced and the characters are allowed to express themselves largely free of the imposition of pushing forward a story.

The results are mixed: it is maddeningly lax, rambling and even a touch self indulgent but the participants really pull something out of themselves: David Tennant immediately establishes the charisma that got Laing attention; Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon are compelling as two of his patients.

Like Laing’s therapy not much is resolved or advanced, but the sense of having gone through an intense experience is strong.

• Mad To Be Normal screens at Cinema City, Norwich, on April 13

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