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The Long Good Friday
Director: John Mackenzie
Producer: Barry Hanson
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson
Screenwriter: Barry Keeffe
Running Time: 114 mins
Battles it out with Get Carter as the greatest British gangster thriller of all time. Hoskins, in the role of a lifetime, growls and bullies his way through this masterpiece. Memorable for its witty one-liners – `I’ll crush them like beetles’, `well there’s a lot of dignity ain’t there. Going aat on a raspberry ripple!’ Modern day British directors like Guy Ritchie and co. have attempted several various homage’s to this ultra classic, and have come nowhere near. With Monkman’s adrenalin-pumping score , Keeffe’s first-rate script and Mackenzie’s assured direction, this is one film which is near-on impossible to surpass, and endlessly re-watchable. The final scene is a cinematic masterstroke, with an at first outraged Shand being thrown back in his car seat, the camera remains in close-up on Hoskins face, as we witness the varying telling emotions flicker across it – anger, frustration, admiration, fear, and then finally surrendered defeat, as he stares out towards a smug-looking young Pierce Brosnan, and director Mackenzie’s watchful eyes in the rear-view mirror, who was apparently given Hoskins direction at the time of filming the scene. It was completed in 1979 but, because of release delays, it is generally credited as a 1980 film. It was voted at number 21 in the British Film Institute’s list of the 100 favourite British movies of the 20th century. A classic.
The film’s protagonist is Harold Shand (played by Bob Hoskins), an old fashioned 1960s-style London gangster who in the late 1970s is aspiring to become a legitimate businessman, albeit with the financial support of the American Mafia, with a plan to redevelop the disused London Docklands as a venue for a future Olympic Games. The storyline weaves together the events of the late 1970s, including low-level political and police corruption, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gun-running, the displacement of traditional British industry with property development, Britain’s membership of the EEC (later the European Union) and the emerging free market economy.
Harold is the undisputed ruling kingpin of the London underworld, when his world is suddenly torn apart by a series of murders and exploding bombs from an unseen foe. Uncovering his enemy’s identity forms much of the film’s subsequent plotline. His ruthless and violent pursuit of leads only points out the small-time tawdriness of the organisation he hopes to legitimise.
The story seems to hinge upon an act of betrayal by one of Harold’s closest aides, the implications of which only become clear near the film’s climax, when the solution to the mystery is suggested though not spelled out. He acts on the information with the same brutality that took him to the pinnacle of the London underworld in the first place, but his enemies this time follow motivations different from those of his local rivals.
The American Mafia representatives decide to leave England because of all the killings but Harold is determined to stay, saying that he will become a legitimate businessman. When he leaves their hotel, he gets into his car, which he thinks is being driven by his chauffeur-driver but in fact has been taken over by two IRA men. The car then sharply pulls out from the hotel zone. Harold realises that his girlfriend, Victoria, is not in the car and sees her in the back of another car being driven away by armed men. Harold finds himself at gunpoint from the front seat passenger (played by a then-unknown Pierce Brosnan). As the car speeds away Harold is seen thinking about all that has gone before and realising that he is about to be ‘taken for a ride’.
The film was directed by John Mackenzie and produced for £930,000 by Barry Hanson from a script by Barrie Keeffe, with a soundtrack by the composer Francis Monkman; it was screened at the Cannes, Edinburgh and London Film Festivals in 1980.
The original story had been written by Keeffe for Hanson when the latter worked for Euston Films, a subsidiary of Thames Television. Euston did not make the movie but Hanson bought the rights from Euston for his own company Calendar Films. Although Hanson designed the film for the cinema and all contracts were negotiated under a movie, not a TV agreement, the movie was eventually financed by Black Lion, a subsidiary of Lord Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment for transmission via Grade’s Associated TeleVision (ATV) on the ITV Network. The film was commissioned by Charles Denton, at the time both Programme Controller of ATV and Managing Director of Black Lion. After Grade saw the finished film, he allegedly objected to what he perceived as the glorification of the IRA and it was scheduled for transmission with heavy cuts on 24 March 1981.
In late 1980, Hanson attempted to buy the film back from ITC to prevent ITV screening the film with these cuts which he said would be “execrable”. and added up to “about 75 minutes of film that was literal nonsense”. It was also reported at the same time that Bob Hoskins was suing both Black Lion and Calendar Films to prevent their planned release of a US TV version in which Hoskins’ voice would be dubbed by English Midlands actor David Daker.
Before the planned ITV transmission the rights to the film were bought from ITC by George Harrison’s company, Handmade Films, for around £200,000 less than the production costs. They gave the movie a cinema release.
The film was shot on location around London including:
- Heathrow Airport – Harold is seen arriving in London when getting off a plane there.
- St Katharine Docks – Harold’s yacht is moored on the Thames there.
- St George in the East (Church of England) Church – used for exterior shots of the church where Harold’s mother goes to a service and when his Rolls Royce is blown up in the churchyard.
- St Patrick’s Church (RC), Greenbank, Wapping – used for the interior scenes of the Church service.
- Canary Wharf/West India Docks is the venue for Harold’s proposed marina development. The future location of One Canada Square is clearly visible as his yacht tours the site. There is also a small model of the proposed development in Harold’s yacht.
- Paddington station.
- King George V Dock in the Royal Docks, now the site of London City Airport – Harold has a meeting here.
- The Savoy Hotel – Where Harold meets the American Mafia at the end of the film.
- Wigmore Street.
- The Salisbury pub, 1 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay – used to represent Fagan’s Pub in Belfast.
- The Lion and Unicorn pub, was a set built for the film in Wapping. Hoskins has said that they used to get members of the public knocking on the door asking if it was open. It is blown up in the film.
- The Governor General pub – where Harold finds Billy (Nick Stringer) is the Waterman’s Arms, a Thames-side pub at 1 Glenaffric Avenue on the Isle of Dogs.
- Harringay Stadium, Green Lanes, Harringay, a greyhound racing stadium at the time, now the site of a superstore – the banger racing scenes were shot here.
Composed by Francis Monkman, this is one of the highlights of the movie. A pulsating, adrenalin pounding, relentless score.
The film includes a large number of performances by young actors who later became famous.
- Paul Barber (Denzil in Only Fools and Horses and Horse from The Full Monty) plays Errol the Ponce, a police informant who is visited by Harold and his scary associate “Razors”.
- Pierce Brosnan, in his first film role, appears as an IRA gunman.
- Dexter Fletcher is the boy who asks for money to watch Harold’s car.
- Karl Howman (Jacko in Brush Strokes) appears as a young detective-sergeant who enjoys socialising with the criminal fraternity.
- Kevin McNally, star of many films and TV programmes is seen in a Belfast bar scene.
- P. H. Moriarty (“Razors”) and Alan Ford appear as members of Shand’s gang. Both would later play the chief villains in Guy Ritchie films.
- Daragh O’Malley, who plays Sergeant Patrick Harper in the series of TV movies based on Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series of historical novels, appears as Brosnan’s fellow assassin.
- Gillian Taylforth, later of EastEnders fame, appears briefly as a young woman who finds a man nailed to the floor of a disused warehouse.
- Derek Thompson, who went on to find fame as Charlie Fairhead in medical drama Casualty appears as Harold’s right-hand man, Jeff, who is killed by Harold in an argument on Harold’s yacht.
In May 2007 it was announced that a remake was being planned by Handmade to start filming in Miami in 2008. Paul W. S. Anderson was to have directed.
- a b c d “British Film Institute website”. http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/480130/index.html.
- a b c d e “Association of Independent Producers’ magazine, September 1980
- a b c d e “Producer seeks a £1m buyer…”: news report in movie trade magazine Screen International, 22nd November 1980
- “BBC News – Entertainment – Long Good Friday gets US remake”. 16 May 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6662085.stm. Retrieved 6 January 2010.