The Long Good Friday
I have to include a gangster film (Carter dips it’s toe in the genre but stays mostly in revenge cinema). It’s a British cinematic institution, the London gangster film. I so nearly opted to put Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels in the list. For all the nay-saying (largely down to the many horrifically unimaginative and bland Mockney films it sadly inspired and still does) it’s an inventive, enjoyable and infinitely quotable caper. It also remains far and away Guy Ritchie’s best film (Snatch a distant but enjoyable second). That said, what it is not is The Long Good Friday which is a genuinely great film which re-enlivened the UK Gangster film, and brought it up to a level that Hollywood was outputting in a golden period throughout the 70’s.
Bob Hoskins would see his career hit new peaks here as a London Gangster on the verge of taking over the City, whose empire begins to fall down around him and he and his enemies exchange violence until the inevitable bloody conclusion. The Long Good Friday is simply masterful. Hoskins is fantastic, whilst Helen Mirren is as you expect from Helen Mirren, just amazing. There’s even an early appearance here from a young Pierce Brosnan as an assassin. Watching this film you can see every projectile of inspiration that embedded itself into latter (and almost always inferior) films. There’s a clear and telling legacy that spread out of the success of the film, owing to a dark and intense portrayal of the London underworld (that plays against the façade of big cars and yachts) and stylish direction from Peter Mackenzie who gives the whole thing a Hollywood gloss.
Gripping, violent, and iconic, The Long Good Friday is brutal and the ending alone is one of the most beautifully simple, yet starkly effective and inevitable in cinema history.
This Is England
This slice of partly auto-biographical life (based on writer/Director Shane Meadows youth) in early 80’s Manchester tells the tale of a young boy who escapes isolation and finds acceptance and inclusion with a group of skinheads. Soon however, as happened around that era, the skinheads began finding themselves infiltrated by far right extremists. From mere anti-establishment, they then became synonymous with hate, fear and neo-nazi movements.
This Is England offers an interesting and engaging insight into this cultural shift and yet another fine British example of gritty realism laced with melancholic charm among searing drama. Honestly, no one mixes it better than us. Shane Meadows simplistic, rough and ready style and kitchen sink reality (owing to a mix of Loach, Leigh and his own style) combine for a dramatic film that is charming, funny, vibrant but ruthlessly effective in pulling the rug from under you and kicking you in the chops with powerful strikes of drama.
Performances are a mixed bag as he opts for a lot of authenticity and reality over trained thesps (at least in the background roles), but a lot of the cast had enough training and raw ability to have subsequently launched careers, notably Vicky McClure and Joseph Gilgun. Thomas Turgoose as the central character is remarkable here. It’s a fantastic performance from someone so young. He’s never quite been able to match it, because with such fresh impetus comes real raw power, but it’s a fantastic debut.
However the film is essential viewing for the performance of Stephen Graham as Combo. This dark, dangerous character who begins to groom young impressionable boys slowly into his ideology. You watch as he begins to infect the youngster Sean (Turgoose), whilst fits of imbalance show the frittering grip he has on his unkempt aggression. An explosion is inevitable and when it happens it’s intense, horrific and takes your breath away. Johnny Depp once commented on the film (to paraphrase) “What Tom and Stephen did in This Is England, destroyed me.” He’s not far wrong. It’s a superb film but it owes a hell of a lot to Turgoose and particularly an electrifying Stephen Graham.
So there we have it. I could keep going and reel off more, say Kes, Peeping Tom, A Brief Encounter to name a few more, but perhaps that will be for another list, another time.
What are your essential British films? Let us know in the comments below…