Just to prove that we keep our promises, here at Picturenose Towers – I was having a very interesting chat with a gentleman in my local hostelry the other night and, as is increasingly the case, he told me he liked the site before asking “why haven’t you got such and such a film reviewed?” In this case, ‘such and such a film’ was The Long Good Friday (1980) by John Mackenzie (Ruby (1992)), which he reckons is the best gangster film ever made. It isn’t, of course – that honour goes to Get Carter (1971) by a country mile – but it’s still damn good, all the same.
London underworld kingpin Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), an old-fashioned 1960s-style London gangster who wants to become a legitimate businessman, is ‘avin a spot o’ bover.
While he is likely to be counting on the support of the American Mafia for his plans to redevelop the disused London Docklands as a venue for a future Olympic Games (pretty prescient, huh?), he is nevertheless sincere about going straight, by and large, to give his beautiful girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren) and himself a more secure future. But then, bombs start going off and his empire begins to crumble, as a series of murders tears his life apart.
The foe he faces is as yet unknown and unseen, but it’s closing in, so Harold begins to fight back the only way he knows how, old school, but his ruthless and violent pursuit of his enemy will carry a high price…
Less so than Get Carter, given its release at a newly hopeful time following Thatcher’s first election victory and the end of the Winter of Discontent, but still more so than most gangster films, this takes us on another journey into society’s underbelly, and it ain’t a pretty sight.
For me, Hoskins has never been better than here, not even in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986), and thanks to stalwart performances from its great cast (hello, Pierce Brosnan) and unflinching direction from Mackenzie, this emerges as a near-Shakespearean examination of the price that must be paid to hold, and hold onto, power.