R. D. Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist, whose radical ideas for helping psychotic patients included the administering of LSD at his Kingsley Hall, medication-free sanctuary.
David Tennant (“Doctor Who (TV)”, “Broadchurch (TV)”), plays our good doctor and we follow him as he runs Kingsley Hall with patients including Jim, Gabriel Byrne (“Carrie Pilby“, “The Usual Suspects”), Sydney, Michael Gambon (“Kingsman: The Golden Circle“, “Paddington 2“), Jerome Holder (“Dough“, “Broken (TV)”) and Tom Richards (“Through The Fire”).
Laing doesn’t buy-in to the traditional sixties methods of treating mentally ill patients which is drug them up and administer electro shock therapy (EST), some voltage to the brain to you and me.
Instead, at Kingsley Hall, Laing allows his patients to roam as they see fit. He talks to them, spends time with them, allows them to be ‘normal’ as such, whilst the world outside verbally, and sometimes physically, abuses them.
Things begin to change however when Angie, Elisabeth Moss (“The Square“, “High-Rise“), turns up and the two begin a relationship. For all the good, and it’s debatable even now whether Laing actually did do any good, he did for his patients, Laing was hopeless at dealing with his own issues.
When one of his children becomes seriously ill, he tells no-one about it and instead spirals into drink and accusatory behaviour that threatens everything he’s worked for. Particularly when Jim begins to show violent tendencies.
Mad To Be Normal is written by Robert Mullan (“We Will Sing”, “Laiskai Sofijai”), who also directs, and Tracy Moreton (“Gitel”).
There’s no getting away from the fact that Mad To Be Normal is a slow film. Even by dramatic standards, the film moves at a snail’s pace, often infuriatingly so.
The cast are wonderful however. Gambon is a delight though chronically underused, how I’d have loved to have seen more of his LSD trip. Byrne gives an unnerving performance, his character beginning as a friend to Angie, but, over time, descending to a dangerous belief that she is taking his friend Laing away from him.
You might watch Tennant’s performance and think it isn’t anything special, believing it to just be as you’ve seen him before. I’d urge you to google interviews of R. D. Laing, of which there are many, and see just how good Tennant’s performance of the doctor really is.
It’s quite remarkable how he matches his speech patterns, even his habit of looking up to his right. It’s a mesmerising performance, but then we already knew Tennant is a fantastic actor.
Mad To Be Normal is a fascinating subject, in fact it’s a double-whammy; the subject of psychiatry and R. D. Laing’s unique take on things. The movie doesn’t claim to be based on anything in particular or grounded in any version of truth.
It makes you question then, how they’ve managed to take such fascinating subjects and make a movie that’s incomprehensibly slow, dragging itself along like a dog with worms.
We only get subtle glimpses into Laing’s workings, a particular moment whilst visiting America whereby he succeeds in getting a woman to speak when she hadn’t previously for some 18 months.
Other than the doctor in charge of the woman being unhappy with Laing’s methods, the film doesn’t do anything with this. It becomes simultaneously a great scene and a tragic one in a single bound.
I really wanted to like Mad To Be Normal, I think the cast is amazing and they all do their best, but the pacing is too slow and the focus of the story seems off to me. I’d have been much more interested in knowing about Laing’s methods, rather than seeing another story about a specialist who can’t apply his specialism to his home life.