Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flick of the Day: The Long Good Friday

One of the all time greats of British cinema, Bob Hoskins was a relative latecomer to acting not garnering his first screen credit till age 30. Over the years he has developed a reputation for being a hard working character with an eye for a gritty role. Perhaps his breakthrough role and certainly one of his best was as London gangster Harold Shand in today's flick of the day, The Long Good Friday.
Playing on many of the fears of the general populace in late 70's Great Britain, John Mackenzie's film is built around a single weekend in the life of old style gangster Harold Shand. Shand is an ordinary decent criminal who doesn't deal in narcotics and using his control of the London underworld for leverage he is attempting that most difficult of cinematic clich├ęs, to go legitimate. In this vein, he has a grand plan in mind involving a corrupt local councillor and a massive development of the then derelict docklands area of the city all financed by American mob money. To impress his American counterparts, he has pulled out all the stops for their weekend visit with a grand reception aboard his yacht all coordinated by his steely eyed wife Victoria played by that other British institution Helen Mirren and his top lieutenant Jeff. However all is not well, for reasons unknown to Harold, somebody is attempting to put him out of business permanently as a spate of bombings and killings hit his empire. As the weekend progresses, Harold struggles to hold his deal together and keep his empire in tact while getting to the bottom of this mysterious vendetta.
From the minute the classic theme tune by Francis Monkman starts up, this excellent thriller goes off at a great pace and never lets up till its denouement outside the Savoy Hotel. A classic of the genre, it blends a great performance from Hoskins as Shand with an intricate plot which combines police corruption, gun running and the IRA to illustrate the changing face of a city and its criminal element. This rich plot and the suspense which John Mackenzie manages to build with each scene are a joy to behold.
Harold: Who's having a go at me? Can you think of anyone who might have an old score to settle or something? Razors: Who's big enough to take you on? Harold: Well, there were a few. Razors: Like who? Harold: Yeah, they're all dead. 
It is is difficult to overstate how much Hoskins carries the film. It is a bravura performance in which he almost revels in the east end mannerisms and speech patterns of Shand and creates a character that is both endearing and misanthropic. He is joined in this by some great character actors who if you have any knowledge of British TV will have you thinking "I know that face" including a turn as "1st Irishman" from an impossibly young Pierce Brosnan.
In spite of all these great performances, the film was almost never released and even than only had a limited run on its release in 1980. Produced for less than £1m and financed by Lew Grade's production company for transmission on the ITV network, it's supposed glorification of the IRA angered Grade and the film was to be heavily edited before George Harrison's Handmade Films came to the rescue and brought the picture for less than the cost of making it while financing a cinema release.
Given the difficulty the British film industry has had in the last three decade of producing commercial mainstream cinema at a profit, for such a great film to be so shabbily dealt with is incredible but not unexpected. In any case, the film was critically lauded when it eventually made it in into the big bad world and Bob Hoskins would go on to forge a solid career in Hollywood.

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