'The Long Good Friday' is a minor classic of British film
, released in 1980 and produced by George Harrison
's Handmade Films
. It starred Bob Hoskins
and Helen Mirren
, with a small role by a young-looking Pierce Brosnan
. Although it is usually described as a gangster film
, it's pure Greek tragedy
, telling the tale of a successful man who is brought down by a flaw in his own character. A very big flaw that leaves several people dead and several other people angry from having been hung upside-down from meathooks. At one point in the film he has the opportunity to put things right, but he cannot, his nature prevents him, and damns him.
The gangster, Harold Shand (ably played by Bob Hoskins), has presided over a period of relative gangland peace for ten years. Like Napoleon or Alexander the Great, Shand simply cannot stop - not content with merely ruling the east end, he dreams of transforming London into a world-beating centre of finance and culture. On the verge of cutting a deal with some American Mafia hoods, Shand's empire starts to fall apart violently - on the verge of personal collapse, he eventually discovers that he is up against something nastier than just another gang of hoods.
The Long Good Friday is interesting partially as an exciting thriller, and partially as a capsule portrait of London in 1980. Shand's dream of transforming the docklands was realised during the subsequent decade, cultimating with the Canary Wharf development, although of course without the participation of organised crime. Hoskin's explosive, brutal portrayal of Shand made him a star. Although a critical and commerical hit at the time, it languished in relative obscurity for much of the 1980s and 1990s before being rediscovered by a generation of nostalgic 'Get Carter' fans, including a certain Mr Guy Ritchie. A wave of generally awful British gangster films have ensued in recent years, none of which capture the Biblical intensity of the original. The film is currently available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. It makes an interesting compliment to the later 'Mona Lisa', which also starred Bob Hoskins.
Odd things to note include the musical score, which is electronic and appears to have fallen from a John Carpenter film, and the fact that some of the gangsters drive around in an Austin Princess, a late-70s wedge-shaped wondercar that's something of a joke nowadays. There are also small roles for Dexter Fletcher, Gillian Taylforth, and Paul Barber ('Denzil' from 'Only Fools and Horses').
Classic line: "The Mafia? I shit 'em!"