The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)

What I’m looking for is someone who can contribute to what England has given to the world: culture, sophistication, genius. A little bit more than an ‘ot dog, know what I mean?”

Introduction

“My pitch was terrorism meets gangsterism” says Barrie Keeffe – writer of The Long Good Friday. This single film made Bob Hoskins a star and managed to balance the political status of England, shortly after Margaret Thatcher came to power. May 4th 1979 saw Thatcher elected into power – The Long Good Friday was released in 1980. Based over a long-weekend in London – it showed Harry Shand (Bob Hoskins) return to London to secure an investment from the Americans – only to find that his own turf was under attack from the Irish. Using the IRA as the threat to Harry Shand and his criminal empire was a brave decision by Keeffe and John Mackenzie, but it paid off as The Long Good Friday remains iconic in its depiction of London and its attitude towards British Gangsters. John Patterson, for The Guardian goes further noting how The Long Good Friday “is also a grownup, despairing look at Britain on the edge of an economic and political precipice.”

London

London was beginning to grow – Keeffe himself writes that his initial thoughts were spurred on by the buildings beginning to grow out of the docklands in Greenwich. Harry Shand “believes” in London – keen to brand the city as the “Capital of Europe”. His attitude –  and ours as viewers – changes as a bomb destroys his mothers car as she attends a Good Friday church service. The situation gets worse – a bomb fails to set-off at a casino Harry owns and a third bomb explodes in a pub that Harry has invested in. Someone is after Harry Shand and he doesn’t know why. And, of all days, this has to happen when he is trying to conduct big business with the Americans …

London is a different place to what it is now. The Long Good Friday knows its Brixtons from its Docklands. It knows who the “Finsbury Hilly-billies” are – and we are expected to join in on the search across the the city. Harry Shand has connections across the land as his closest associate, educated Jeff (aka, Derek Thompson who moved on to play Charlie Fairhead in Casualty) and Razors (P.H. Moriarty), amongst others, assist Shand in hunting down those behind the bombings.When it is revealed that it is the Irish who are responsible it was – and still is – a controversial outcome.

London is a changing society and a world whereby Harry – an old school gangster – is clearly having trouble keeping up. He doesn’t realise how explosive the “paddy factor” is – he is a gangster who aspires to be affluent; rich; established. The IRA are idealists- they fight for more.

A Globalised World

Throughout the film we see how powerful Harry Shand truly is. He manages to ’round-up’ the villains of London and hang them on meat-hooks in an attempt to establish who is responsible for the bombings. He conducts business on a yacht and his wife (Helen Mirren) is as intelligent – if not moreso – than he. Together, the two know exactly where they want their business to go.

But the end of an era is clearly hinted at as a key scene takes place at a destruction derby. We see old, beaten up cars on their final lap. They have had their prime but in a mark of desperation, they fight on a course, ready to go out in style. Harry Shand is unaware that he is out of touch. He has taken his finger off the pulse and his old-style of gangsterism is dated. Are we seeing a commentary between the business relations of the UK and the US? A stand-off between the two sides solidifies Harry’s position – Harry Shand doesn’t take kindly to such a flippant disregard of his offer. Though I have a feeling the Americans leave the country unscathed … Harry Shand should be so lucky.

Iconic – and Influenced

The Long Good Friday became a staple hit of the gangster genre. Ranked No.20 on a list of Best Crime Films compiled by The Guardian, it is clear that it is a film not to be taken lightly. Akin to The Godfather, there is a disgust for the drugs and the street. A gangster clinging onto old-school values is as prevalent in The Godfather as it is in Sexy Beast.

Guy Ritchie was clearly a fan too, casting P.H. Moriarty and Alan Ford as the villains in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells and Snatch respectively. And even Matthew Vaughan knew a trick of two – using a final sting to end Layer Cake as Mackenzie ends The Long Good Friday. How perfect that it is Pierce Brosnan who manages to become the unforgettable face Harry Shand see’s before the closing credits – the James Bond of the future.

The Long Good Friday remains a powerful film to this day and if you want to see the city Margaret Thatcher came to power in as she became elected, then this is a small hint about what London was like. It also shows the types of business proposals that could take place too – and how those, like Shand, could prosper. Add to this the outstanding jazz soundtrack by Francis Monkman and dialogue that pops like Cockney-firecrackers and it is clear that this film is well up in the ranks of Top British Film. A true classic.

Originally written/analysed for Man I Love Films on 25 April 2013

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