The Long Good Friday (1980)

Director: John MacKenzie Starring: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Derek Thompson, Eddie Constantine, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Paul Freeman Written by: Barry Keeffe Running Time: 110 mins Original UK Cert: X Original UK Release: November 1980

British cinema is littered with gangster movies. Tales of “geezas” planning to “take someone down”. Mostly after the success of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Long before that, came The Long Good Friday and while Lock, Stock gave the genre a more jokey feel, this 1980 classic was a different beast altogether and is now regarded as one of the greats, mainly for its intelligent script, a sense of realism and a central performance that made a star. Harold Shand is an East-End gangster who is desperate to go legitimate. Planning to redevelop London’s Docklands, he brings in financial support from local businessmen and from America. Announcing his plans on Good Friday, things turn for the worse when Harold’s empire comes under attack. Wondering who wants to muscle in on his scheme, paranoia starts to seep in and Harold has to go back to violent ways in order to find out who’s behind these crimes. Looking back on the film now, it’s like a historical snapshot of a time long gone. The Docklands skyline is a far different beast now compared to 1980 and the whole story line of its redevelopment wasn’t just a shaggy dog’s tale. Having that as the backbone instantly makes this a far more interesting film as we see a man who has a reputation that demands respect, slowly crumbling. Barry Keeffe’s script is one of the stars of this film. It doesn’t just rely on mock-Cockney and Dick Van Dyke-style banter. He has gone for as much realism as possible. Add to that a story that, if you have never seen it, will leave you intrigued from the opening sequences and Keeffe never fully explains it until much later in the film, so for the first 40 minutes or so, you are wondering what exactly is going on. So we, the audience, are just as confused by the violent events as Harold is. Another impressive thing about this movie is the decision by director John MacKenzie not to have quick, unnecessary edits. Some scenes are shot with no cuts which allows the actors to really perform and get their teeth into the moment. It also helps with the tone and tension of the piece and believe me, there is plenty of tension. There are so many memorable scenes and lines of dialogue that stay with you long after the film is over. The meat freezer scene, in which Harold and his men gather the local gangsters together and hang them upside while he gives his famous “Well now there’s been an eruption” speech is still chilling to this day and you wonder how long these actors had to hang there for them to look so purple. The film is littered with recognisable faces from British television and film of the time. Faces that popped up on regular occasions of shows like The Sweeney and The Professionals and with their genuine east end accents and tough guy personas, it adds to the general feel of the film. A very young Pierce Brosnan, long before his Bond days, pops up in a non-speaking but important role in his first big screen outing and Derek Thompson, who went on to play Charlie in BBC’s Casualty, gets a debut in a meaty role as Harold’s right-hand man. A very young Helen Mirren plays Victoria, Harold’s wife and it would have been so easy for her to just play the pretty woman by his side. Not Ms Mirren. Victoria is just as tough and ruthless as her husband and she manages to hold her own and even, at one point, seems to be the only one who can control the out-of-control Harold. It’s an impressive performance and you can see how she now has that reputation of being one of this country’s finest. At the very heart of the film, however, is the late, great Bob Hoskins. He is Harold Shand, a bulldog of a man with the temperament to go with it. He oozes brutality and yet we see him go from confident businessman with a dream to a crumbling, violent tornado. His screen presence is remarkable. It is a performance worthy of not just watching but studying closely. There are so many layers, so many changes of step and all the while he is in command of an Empire, abet one that is slowly falling down around him. The true strength of just how good Hoskins is comes in the final scene, in which the camera lingers on just his face. Not a word is utter, just the sound of Frances Monkman’s memorable score, in which we literally see every thought going through Harold’s head. Menacing, intimidating and utterly ferocious, yet there is a vulnerability about him that doesn’t just make him a one-dimensional thug.  It’s a masterclass of how to create an instantly memorable character that you believe. The Long Good Friday deserves the recognition it has received and many regard it as one of the best British gangster films ever, often spoken in the same breath as another classic, Get Carter. While made in a different time, a different era, and even though it wasn’t that long ago, things have changed drastically. Yet this film still stands up well, thanks to the terrific script, the simple yet effective direction and Bob Hoskins, a small man who was a giant in British cinema. 5/5 Buy DVD Click Here Buy Blu Ray Click Here

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