The Long Good Friday, 1980.
Directed by John Mackenzie.
Starring Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Pierce Brosnan, Eddie Constantine, Paul Barber, Derek Thompson, Brian Hall, Alan Ford, Kevin McNally, P.H. Moriarty, Karl Howman, Bryan Marshall.
A ruthless English gangster’s empire starts to fall after a series of bombings over the Easter weekend.
Britain has always made good gangster films but there was always an angle to them, a little something that the filmmakers honed in on so they offered slightly more than the ultra-violent mob movies coming out of America. But in 1980 The Long Good Friday arrived and gave British crime movies a new, for the UK anyway, edge; a gangster film that was actually about gangsters and what they do.
But despite the gritty nature of the script and the raw production values it was the central performance by a then relatively unknown Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand that gave the film its character, and there aren’t many other characters in British cinema more fully rounded or memorable than Harold Shand. Shand is a man who has risen to the top of the London criminal underworld and, with his eye on putting at least one foot in the legitimate business world, is looking to earn a bit of respect by putting together a deal to help revitalise London’s docklands area in time for the Olympics later in the decade. Short, stocky, bullish and with a quick temper, Shand doesn’t suffer fools gladly and during a visit from an American mafia associate who is visiting London to make sure Harold is THE man to do business with, it turns out that somebody has the needle with him as his business interests begin to get bombed. Needless to say, somebody is for it when Mr. Shand gets hold of them.
Eschewing the stylised vision of the London underworld that Guy Ritchie employed with his run of crime movies, The Long Good Friday isn’t the most interesting film visually but it carries itself on the lightning pace of the script and some dynamic performances. There are a bunch of British character actors whose faces you’ll recognise, including Lock, Stock’s P.H. Moriarty and Alan Ford, Casualty’s Derek Thompson, Brush Strokes’ Karl Howman, The Full Monty’s Paul Barber, Fawlty Towers’ Brian Hall, a very young Pierce Brosnan as a hitman plus a deliciously rock-solid performance from Helen Mirren as Shand’s girlfriend Victoria, but, as alluded to, Bob Hoskins is the main focal point and steals every scene he’s in, whether he’s being loving and tender with Helen Mirren or whether he’s glassing somebody in the throat in a fit of rage. It’s this bipolar side of Shand that makes him so endearing to watch, as you never quite know what way he’s going to go with any given situation, especially as the side of him that craves a legitimate life forces him to try and be calm but every now and then the old habits come out and land him in even more hot water.
The film itself unravels like a mystery, the audience kept in the dark as to who is targeting Shand and why so we’re discovering what is happening along with him, and once the full story is out in the open it’s no less exciting as Shand’s ultimate fate is revealed, with Hoskins giving his powerhouse performance even more depth by not saying anything at all, his expression doing all the work and telling us everything we need to know.
This Steelbook edition Blu-ray comes loaded with extras, including the feature-length Bloody Business making-of documentary that features interviews with Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Pierce Brosnan and several members of the crew. There’s nothing too controversial or out of the ordinary about the making of the film but it’s obvious that everybody involved had a good time and the late, great Hoskins knew that this was his chance at making a career in the movies, and seeing him talking so enthusiastically about the film is a joy to watch. There is also Hands Across the Ocean, a featurette detailing the dubbing of some scenes for American audiences who may not have grasped some of the Cockney lingo, interviews with key crew members, a Q&A with Bob Hoskins and director John Mackenzie plus Apaches, John Mackenzie’s 1977 short film about the dangers of children playing on farms. Sound bizarre? Possibly it is, but to those of us old enough to remember those morbid health and safety films from the ‘70s and ‘80s it’s a nice little inclusion.
So overall, this is another fantastic package from Arrow Video. The film itself is hardly a special effects extravaganza but the 2K restoration has cleaned the picture up nicely and the Steelbook packaging is pretty fetching. It’s also getting a 6-disc box set release from Arrow next month with Hoskins’ other notable crime drama Mona Lisa, but this cool looking edition stands up on its own as something quite special to own so if you’re a bit flush over the next month why not pick up both? Harold Shand would insist on it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★