THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY [1980]: on Dual Format Steelbook now and in a Limited Edition Boxset with MONA LISA 18th May

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

UK

AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD: Now, from ARROW VIDEO

RUNNING TIME: 118 min

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

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Harold Shand has risen from nothing to become the ruler of the London underworld which has now had ten years of peace due to his control. Extremely rich and with a beautiful girlfriend, he’s on the verge of getting even richer. He’s about to make a semi-legitimate deal with the American Mafia which will rejuvenate his native London docklands, replacing the declining port-side areas with vast new modern developments, with a view to even holding a future Olympic Games there. He returns home on Good Friday to greet Mafia boss Charlie who has come over to finalise the deal, but learns that two associates have been murdered and a bomb found in one of his casinos. He sets out to find who is doing this and why….

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The Long Good Friday comes with the reputation of being one of the best British gangster movies, and is regarded by many to actually be the very best, so it had a lot to live up to when I settled down to watch it. Could it be, like some other pictures which I’d hyped up too much in my mind, another let down.? Within fifteen minutes I had come to the conclusion that, unless the film took a huge nosedive and didn’t recover, this film wasn’t going to be a disappointment at all and is undoubtedly a true classic of its genre worth the adulation it’s had. I was totally immersed in the fascinating and entirely convincing world of the film and totally intrigued by his charismatic central character, seemingly a mass of contradictions but more believable because of that fact, because aren’t we all contradictory to some degree and violent criminal masterminds probably more contradictory than most? Even after the number of post-Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels copycat gangster pictures the British cinema has suffered in much more recent times, there was immediately something fresh about The Long Good Friday [no ‘mockney’ accents no ‘wide boy’ routines for a start!], which unusually takes place just during two days and is in many ways, despite the world in which the story occurs, more of a mystery tale crossed with a character study.

This project was actually developed under a different title, one that was decided gave away too much of the plot so I’m not going to mention it here. Though producer Barry Hanson did originally envisage it as a cinema release, it passed from several TV companies, Hanson selling the rights and then buying them back, and was eventually financed by a subsidiary of ITC. Barrie Keefe’s script, which had written the lead character specifically for Bob Hoskins after seeing him in Zulu Dawn, changed so much that Anthony Franciosa, originally cast as the Mafia boss Charlie, left after three days filming. The shooting was apparently attended by real life gangsters, which may be one reason why the film is sometimes compared to Performance though in fact they are very different. Originally scheduled to be televised with over half an hour of cuts to both violence and political elements, the production was soon in big trouble with Hanson trying to regain control of the film and star Bob Hoskins sueing because they’d re-dubbed his voice with that of an another, less Cockney-sounding actor so the Americans would better understand what he was saying, but eventually Handmade Films bought it and released it to cinemas over a year over it was shot, while Embassy Pictures the US distributors still insisted on adding a short glossary of ‘slang’ words before the film, though I doubt many Americans today would find the dialogue hard to understand.

The Long Good Friday throws us immediately into a series of sometimes random-seeming scenes. A man takes a suitcase full of money to two others but pockets some cash on the way. Then he goes to a bar and tries to ‘pick up’ a younger guy. We cut back to the men with the case, and just as before the camera remains outside a window so we are just observing them and can’t hear what they’re saying. Then a gun bursts into frame and smashes the window. I’ve read that John Mackenzie’s direction and for this film is dull, but I don’t really agree – yes, the accent is on realism, but it shows plenty of style when it feels it needs to, aided immensely by Phil Meheux’s cinematography particularly during several tracking shots from buildings down to people, suggesting the metropolis that is on the verge of being transformed whether the film’s characters have a hand in it or not, or some deliberately jarring POV shots when people are being hung on meathooks. After the two guys are taken away, we cut to a funeral and a woman dressed in mourning gear going up to somebody’s face and spitting on it. All this will be explained later on, but now we meet the film’s anti-hero Harold Shand, entering Heathrow Airport to very 70’s TV-style theme music which seemed a bit out of place during the opening credits but now seems entirely appropriate, its saxophone wails virtually in time with Harold’s swagger. Even now, as we see Harold await the arrival of the Mafia boss with whom he has nearly organised a deal that will transform London and make him unspeakably rich, we cut to the man from the beginning being knifed beside a swimming pool [and yes viewers, it is a young Pierce Brosnan in his first movie part that you see] and a car exploding killing the chauffeur of Harold’s girlfriend Victoria’s mother.

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This Harold, who has clearly fought his way to the top from nothing, actually seems like a pretty decent guy. Okay, he’s head of the London underworld, but we really like him and envy his lifestyle. He seems fair and even kind. We even want him to get this deal. When he goes to the swimming pool and sees his friend’s bloody corpse, he reminisces about the guy and it’s genuinely sad [brilliant bit of acting by Hoskins here – just observe the way he uses his hands], and when he learns that the chauffeur has been killed by a bomb in the car, we agree with his shock about how dishonourable the killing is. One of the things this film does so well is to gradually show the horror and ugliness of the man. It’s a while before he’s involved in any violence, but when he goes to Brixton to find someone who may know what’s going on things suddenly change. He gets his driver to callously kick a car so it almost kills the guy working under it, then gets him to slash a naked person he’s questioning with a machete for information, the change being startling. This is actually an evil, ruthless bastard, though he still had his pleasant moments. After the machete scene, he talks nicely to some kids and, gazing at the slums, says: “These people deserve something better than this”. We sense that he really means it and that his deal may actually be partly because he wants to actually help people. Most amusingly but not unrealistically, he has no bones about killing people himself and getting load of people hung on meat hooks, but is horrified at the site of a heroin needle and is always apologetic to and very respectful of his wife. Helen Mirren’s character is no mere gangster’s moll – she’s Harold’s equal in many ways and possibly even more the brains behind the operation because she always regains her calm.

There actually isn’t that much violence in The Long Good Friday compared to many modern films, but there are some shocking moments – the most probably being a bottle of Bells whisky in the face – and the tension becomes very strong in a film which still finds plenty of time for local colour and character touches. It doesn’t at all glorify gangsterism, and suggests that such characters, who primarily do what they do for profit, are outdated and in the end no match for those whose actions are based on ideals. The release of the film coincided with the rise of ruthless capitalism under Margaret Thatcher but it also seems strikingly prophetic and feels amazingly modern at times, from the terror of a fanatical and seemingly undefeatable enemy to comments on the business potential of a united Europe. Then there are plenty of great lines dotted throughout, like: “someone’s been playing with Guy Fawkes with my Rolls and a touch of Jaws in my lido” or: “Belfast? What was he doing there? I know Colin fancies soldiers, but that’s taking his buggery a bit far, isn’t it?”

Some of Francis Monkman’s score sounds a bit out of place, I could have done without two or three scenes which drag the pace down just when it should be being ramped up, while I have a feeling that the story wouldn’t work quite as well a second time round, but then you can have fun doing things like just spotting the actors who would later gain fame in unnamed characters, and one can still appreciate the gall with which the film constantly does the unexpected first-time round. Take a scene with Victoria and a hood in a lift. He obviously fancies her, and she seems attracted to him. He moves towards her, but instead of a clinch and possibly the two going to bed, he just makes a vulgar proposal and she says something about a narrow escape and leaves when the lift door opens. As British as you can get with its subtlety and its flavour, and both a great time capsule and a very timely commentary on certain things that are going on now, The Long Good Friday is essential viewing, and as for Hoskins….well, I’ve left the matter of going into his performance until now, because it really is remarkable and something I don’t feel he ever bettered. The film’s final scene almost entirely focuses on his face for several minutes in the back of a car as the soundtrack music blares out so we can’t hear the few words he is saying and have to focus on his expressions, which if you watch closely tells you all you need to know. It’s one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

 

The Long Good Friday comes in another superb package from Arrow Video who have totally restored the film from scratch with the participation of Phil Meheux himself, who has supervised some re-grading of scenes which didn’t meet his expectations back in 1980 and which he wasn’t able to correct back then. This seems to me to be a totally justified example of ‘altering’ a film with the digital tools that can now be used for such things. I could see no dirt in the print whatsoever and the detail is amazing. The extras, some taken from the old Anchor DVD, are very comprehensive, most notably a superb making-of documentary. It’s worth noting that the Boxset which includes Mona Lisa has some extra special features relating to the film that aren’t on the Steelbook.

 

DUAL FORMAT STEELBOOK CONTENTS:

*High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of both films, in brand new restorations sourced from the original camera negatives and approved by cinematographer Phil Meheux (The Long Good Friday), director Neil Jordan and cinematographer Roger Pratt (Mona Lisa)
*Original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Audio commentary by director John Mackenzie
*Bloody Business, a documentary about the making of The Long Good Friday, including interviews with John Mackenzie, stars Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Pierce Brosnan, producer Barry Hanson and Phil Meheux
*Brand new interviews with Barry Hanson, Phil Méheux and writer Barrie Keeffe
*Hands Across the Ocean – A comparison of the differences between the UK and US soundtracks
*Original Trailer

 

6-DISC SPECIAL EDITION BOX SET CONTENTS:

*High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of both films, in brand new restorations sourced from the original camera negatives and approved by cinematographer Phil Meheux (The Long Good Friday), director Neil Jordan and cinematographer Roger Pratt (Mona Lisa)
*Original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY DISCS 1 & 2 – BLU-RAY & DVD

*Audio commentary by director John Mackenzie
*Bloody Business, a documentary about the making of The Long Good Friday, including interviews with John Mackenzie, stars Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Pierce Brosnan, producer Barry Hanson and Phil Meheux
*Brand new interviews with Barry Hanson, Phil Méheux and writer Barrie Keeffe
*Hands Across the Ocean – A comparison of the differences between the UK and US soundtracks
*Original Trailer

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY DISCS 3 & 4 – BLU-RAY & DVD [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]

*Q&A with Bob Hoskins and John Mackenzie, moderated by Richard Jobson
*Apaches (1977), John Mackenzie’s notorious farm safety film, presented in High Definition (1080p) for the first time
*Introduction to Apaches by cinematographer Phil Meheux
*Extended interviews with Barry Hanson, Phil Méheux, Barrie Keeffe, assistant director Simon Hinkly and assistant art director Carlotta Barrow

MONA LISA DISCS 5 & 6 – BLU-RAY & DVD

*Audio commentary by Bob Hoskins and Neil Jordan
*Brand new interviews with director Neil Jordan, writer David Leland and producer Stephen Woolley
Original Trailer

100-PAGE HARD BACK BOOK [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]

Featuring new writing on the film by critics Mark Duguid and Mike Sutton plus archive pieces by Robert Sellers and Patrick Russell, illustrated with original production stills

 



Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 1856 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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