The Long Good Friday is one of the defining British films of the 80s and the best British gangster film ever made (if we exclude the oeuvre of Danny Dyer). And now, 35 years after its release, Arrow Video is giving it the image-restoration and high-definition treatment for a re-release on Blu-Ray.
Bob Hoskins stars as Harold Shand, an old school geezer from the east end who started off as a simple juvenile delinquent but became the head of the most feared and respected criminal organisation in London; the Corporation.
Now, in 1980, at the height of his powers, he’s trying to put together the biggest deal of his life and orchestrate a massive redevelopment of London’s derelict docklands. It’s a chance to make some legit(ish) money, make a respectable(ish) name for himself and do something for the city that raised him and which he still loves. To pull off the deal he turns to some “associates” from New Jersey who have the readies to fund such a project and who are coming to London to finalise the deal. But when close friends start being murdered and his businesses are bombed, Harold has to race to find out who’s out to get him and put a stop to it before the yanks get scared and pull out of the deal.
The film works on one level as very compelling thriller. From its bold 15-minute-plus dialogue free opening, to the hopping around London and search for Shand’s enemies, you are constantly guessing and trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Inevitable questions about the loyalty of those closest to Shand emerge as the attacks on the Corporation continue, and while the revelation of who is responsible doesn’t come as a huge surprise, the reason why, does.
There are a number of really strong performances in the film, Helen Mirren for one kills it as Shand’s wife and willing accomplice who is far from a two-dimensional gangsters moll. A great example of a strong female character in a genre that is typically very macho. But the main plaudits are for Hoskins as Shand. He dominates the scenes like a barely tamed bull. For the most part he’s warm and charming, but at heart he’s still a villain, and when the violence erupts from him it’s unrestrained, brutal and horrific. The film rarely indulges in the violence though, so when it comes it tends to be short, sharp and shocking.
Shand represents a common duality of the successful gangster; a man with the trappings of wealth (clothes, jewelry, nice gaff), but a largely unreformed character. He hob-nobs with members of the establishment, with his beautiful and intelligent wife, Victoria, at his side, yet his working class, east end roots are bare for all to see, with his hammering cockney accent and bull-like manner. He’s a man who’s clearly had the intelligence to observe, understand and adapt to the world he inhabits.
The docklands project at first looks like just another step in the Harold Shand success story. But he finds himself up against forces that are bigger than him; American money, globalisation, and even international terrorism. Shand is a man used to beating other men, but now he’s taking on abstracts and forces bigger than him. When he swings his fists he finds nothing but air.
Harold is old London, old Britain. He’s about hard-work, tenacity and balls. He’s all bulldog, Churchillian spirit, punching above his weight from the start. But there’s only so far his basic qualities can take him and in the changing world of the late 70s and early 80s, he finds he’s impotent against the new forces. His time has passed, his empire is crumbling.
The Long Good Friday brilliantly reflects many of the changes Britain went through in the 1980s; the weakening of the class system, the decline in British power, the rise of globalisation. But at its heart it’s about a person’s ability to understand and adapt in the face of inevitable change, overwhelmed by abstract forces they can’t fully comprehend. Now, in 2015, with the politics of fear of change alive and kicking and many feeling like they’re fodder in a world dominated by vast, unsentimental market forces, The Long Good Friday still feels very relevant. A very important film in the history of British cinema and a fascinating snapshot of a changing London.
The Long Good Friday is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from May 4th.
- The remastering is superb. The picture quality is crisp, as you would expect, and the colouring of the film feels authentic.
- The special features are packed out with interviews, and Helen Mirren talking about fighting with the director to make Victoria a character with depth and not a bimbo is very interesting.
- London of 1980 looks simultaneously really shit and really great. Much like London of 2015.
- The main theme tune is ace.
- Watch out for Pierce Brosnan in his sexy assassin role.