The Long Good Friday (1980) // Words: Paul Dean
Good Friday may already have passed but let me tell you about what is surely one of the best British films ever made, and also the one that launched the big-screen career of one of Britain’s best actors, Bob Hoskins. I’d better be quick, there’s a remake in the works and I need to convince you to see the original while it still remains untarnished and unmarred by whatever inevitable pish is released.
For me, 'The Long Good Friday' is the definitive British gangster film, far and above 'Get Carter'. I also see it as probably the most honest and representative example of its kind. It’s nowhere near as flashy or cocky as the Guy Ritchie efforts that owe it an enormous debt, but instead feels much more serious and unsympathetic. Its frankness gives it a very real and very concrete depiction of the London and the Britain of its time, much of which still persists today.
Most of all, I feel like it represents the Britain I grew up in. The film and I, we’re both the same age, and I can’t help but feel we were also formed by the same environment. I also think 'The Long Good Friday' must possess some element of timelessness. Despite being thirty years old and its plot being based around some of the key political and economic issues of the day, it somehow feels like it hasn’t aged at all. Though urban decay, rising crime, immigration, bombs and recession are all on the London agenda right now, when haven’t they been?
All these issues surround and inform Bob Hoskins’ extraordinarily British gangster (called Harold, with a girlfriend called Victoria and a shiny new Jaguar, among other British references) who is, after eliminating all his opposition, finally going legit, only to find the most extraordinary and mysterious campaign of violence launched against him. Various hints as to who and why are dotted throughout the film, before finally coming together in a climax that is deservedly famous for its closing shot, a moment that I really believe must be unequalled in cinema history.
Right up to this final scene, this is a film whose plot, energy, mood and dialogue are all superb. Hoskins’ delivery is terrific and his gradually rising rage manifests itself in extraordinary moments of black humour, such as when he describes the stabbing of a friend at a swimming baths as “Going out like raspberry ripple.” True, he’s ferocious as an East End crimelord, but his brutal behaviour is tempered by a careful and calculating control that just serves to make him all the more intimidating and all the more credible. So strong is this performance that it really feels like Hoskins was made for this film or, perhaps, that this film was made for Hoskins.
See 'The Long Good Friday' if you want something with a much more honest London gangster feel, something more grounded in the real world. 'The Long Good Friday' is the only film ever written by playwright Barrie Keeffe and I can only wish that he blesses the big screen again sometime. His characterisation, his pacing and his dialogue are superb, while the supporting roles are also so well written (and cast). Compulsory viewing for anyone who has been exposed to too much Hugh Grant and Guy Ritchie.
'The Long Good Friday' can be had on DVD for a fiver at Amazon.co.uk.