Mad to Be Normal

Former Doctor Who star David Tennant plays notorious Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing. The central performance is compelling, but the film around Tennant is as hazy as the cigarette smoke-choked sets

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 03 Apr 2017
  • Mad to be Normal
Film title: Mad to Be Normal
Director: Robert Mullan
Starring: David Tennant, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gambon, Gabriel Byrne
Release date: 6 Apr
Certificate: 15

It’s 60s London. How can we tell? Because director Robert Mullan throws every conceivable period film cliche – psych-rock soundtrack, nicotine haze visuals, costumes in every shade of brown – at this tedious biopic of visionary psychiatrist RD Laing. Looking lost in a small number of poorly dressed sets is David Tennant, who has a good stab at playing the erratic shrink, nailing his bracing arrogance and aggressive humanism (Laing’s philosophy seems to be that everybody should be treated equally, except anyone who disagrees with him).

The film’s messy focus is Laing’s experimental community clinic Kingsley Hall, where people in various states of psychosis lived and worked through their illness. Tranquilisers and electric shock therapy are eschewed, but Laing’s alternative methods, such as LSD, don’t seem any more helpful, particularly when one patient (Gabriel Byrne) has an acid trip that takes him back to his mother’s murder, and soon after develops homicidal thoughts towards Laing's pregnant lover (Elisabeth Moss). Is Laing’s treatment to blame? Who can tell, because Mullan fails miserably to let us inside his characters’ heads. For a film about psychiatry, that's an inexcusable flaw.

Released by GSP Distribution