Film Review: Mad To Be Normal

Robert Mullan’s Mad To Be Normal offers good performances from its cast. Whilst the attention to detail is commendable, the film is not captivating.

In the 1960s, psychiatrist R.D. Laing offers a different type of treatment to those afflicted with mental health conditions. His methods, which focus on listening to patients over harsh procedures, are the cause of some controversy…

Mad To Be Normal is a biopic of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Rather than a traditional biopic, the film concentrates on shorter, critical period of the subject’s life. The film begins by depicting Laing as a quasi-celebrity; it is a good introduction to an interesting character. Much of the film is viewed through the prism of his relationship with Angie, who he meets early on in the narrative.

There are two main strands in Mad To Be Normal. The first concentrates on Laing’s career and his experimental therapy. The stark contrast between his methods and the generally held beliefs at the time are well presented by director Mullan. A scene in which one of the patients, John, undergoes harsh treatment in hospital provides an excellent contrast to Laing’s freedom, emphasis on talking, and loud shirts. The second strand concentrates on Laing’s personal life, although as necessary, these overlap.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is Laing’s relationship with his patients. He seems to have a genuine bond with them rather than a purely professional relationship. The film hints at a wider connection between Laing and his patients, but this is not explored in any detail. His relationship with Angie is tumultuous, perhaps revealing more about her than about him.

David Tennant offers a strong and commanding performance as Laing, which is the highlight of the film. He is offered good support from Elisabeth Moss, Gabriel Byrne, and Michael Gambon. Mullen shows great attention to detail in his depiction of 1960s London; the sepia tone, the costumes, and the cigarette smoke go a great way in setting the scene. Mad To Be Normal is thought-provoking, even if it does not pack a punch.

Mad To Be Normal will be available on VOD from 13th August 2018.