After a weeks’ sorjorn in Auckland New Zealand visiting family, I’m back to resume my weekly film post.
The gangster genre has been a staple in cinema ever since the medium begun. In America, the emphasis tended towards the Mafia and other various ethnic origins, but in the UK the genre was never quite so strong or dominant. British gangster films tended to focus on their working class backgrounds although there was always an undercurrent of vicious violence.
Get Carter, released in 1971, was one of the better British gangster movies, and although I have always admired it, I can’t say it’s a film I find very enjoyable due to all the characters being pretty repellent – including Michael Caine in one of his few really nasty villainous roles.
However, for me, the British gangster film hit the jackpot in 1980 with the release of The Long Good Friday. Although completed in 1979 it was delayed for a year but burst onto the scene the following year as the storyline encompassed the events and concerns of the late 1970s, including political and police corruption and IRA fund-raising.
The protagonist is Harold Shand, a top London gangster, who aspires to become legitimate and is trying to form a partnership with an American Mafia boss; but his world is upended by a series of bomb attacks on his properties and numerous murders of his associates.
Believing a local turf war has erupted, Shand gets all the other gang bosses together in one very unique and unusual place.
Ultimately, Shand learns that people within his own team have been dealing with the IRA, which leads him to violently dealing with them plus setting up a showdown with the local IRA chiefs in London.
Although Shand now believes his enemies are all dead he finds the Americans preparing to leave, having been spooked by the carnage. In response to their dismissive comments about the UK, Shand berates them for their arrogance and dismisses them as cowards. But at the film’s end, Shand will face the consequences of his recent actions.
The film boasts a standout performance by Bob Hoskins which was his breakout role. Unfortunately, over the years, he never quite achieved the same quality of roles, but here he is absolutely dynamic whether showing the character’s ruthless violent streak and/or his character’s humorous cunning intelligence.
Helen Mirren co-stars as Shand’s girlfriend in a role that could very easily have been a cliche but she brings a strength and believability to the character that would see her continue as one of the best film actresses in the last 50 years.
The Long Good Friday is one of the best British gangster movie ever made, arguably the best-ever. It’s a film made with ferocious intelligence, is tightly plotted and with razor-edged thrills it still packs a punch over 40 years after it was first released.