The Long Good Friday

This weekend is the closing weekend of the Shuffle Film Festival. Programmed entirely by Danny Boyle, the festival has taken place at St Clements Social Club, itself part of a derelict hospital in Mile End. The festival itself has East London at its heart, showing an outdoor screening of The Long Good Friday on its opening weekend.
A truly remarkable film with career defining performances from both Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins, The Long Good Friday, arguably the best British Gangster film of all time (hence the name of this blog) is a film not just about gangsters, it’s a film about London, and what Londoners felt they could achieve in the 80’s at a time of great change in Britain. The writing is razor sharp, mixing high drama and uncomfortable violence with quick humour without destroying the sincerity of a scene.
Hoskins is Harold Shand, a self-made East London mobster and Thatcher poster boy, waxing lyrical about London being Europe’s capital, the host of the Olympics (eerily accurate) and the home of prosperity and progress. Unfortunately for Harold, not everyone seems to share his enthusiasm, and on the dawn of a huge potential deal to legitimise his business, things start going very wrong. After a number of his men are murdered, and bombs start exploding far too close to home, Harold’s vision starts to slip away. And when it is revealed that the perpetrators are far more powerful than Harold could ever have imagined, his pride takes over. He believes himself to be indestructible and this ultimately leads to his demise.
Shand is a likeable character for the most part, but can quickly turn in an instant. From the moment he first arrives on screen, he commands respect. He is a charismatic beast of a man, but he’s not brutish; he’s intelligent and articulate, but still has East End cheek and humour. Hoskins delivers laugh-out-loud one-liners, as well as some of the most rousing and memorable speeches in recent years. Yet despite his obvious power, Shand takes his lead very much from his wife Victoria.
Mirren’s Victoria is far more than Shand’s ‘posh totty’. Mirren herself, when talking about her character explained that she never would’ve played Victoria as a gangster’s moll, and true to her word, Mirren gives a blinding performance. Victoria, as well as being his wife, plays the role of his business partner. She is discreet, charming and fiercely strong willed. Their relationship with each other is an integral part of his success, and with very few films of the genre providing women with strong roles, The Long Good Friday breaks the mould yet again.
It’s interesting to reflect on the film over 30 years later and compare it to the portrayal of London in cinema now. The perception of gangs had changed- the ‘firms’ being replaced by football hooligans or youths on run down estates. The fear of terrorism in film is of course still very much alive, it just the terrorist groups that have changed. Immigration is still very much explored, though we are no hearing the voices of the immigrants themselves. And of course we did have the Olympics that Shand predicted.
The Long Good Friday is an incredible piece of cinematic history; British cinema will never produce a successful film like it again, because it’s irrelevant now. Revisiting it whilst sat in the grounds of a derelict hospital that’s soon to be knocked down and transformed in to some high rise luxury flats was perfectly fitting; and easily one of the best viewing experiences I’ve ever had.


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