Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Long Good Friday (1980)

After reading 'Very Naughty Boys', about Handmade Films, my interest was piqued to watch The Long Good Friday, especially as I knew it was shot at a time (1979) before the London docklands was developed, so would have some historically interesting footage.

It seems you can't move for the garlands of praise being heaped on this film, both at the time and in retrospect with a new print of the film in the cinema in recent years, but, even though Hoskins delivers a star turn, ably supported by Helen Mirren, the rest of the supporting cast I thought were very weak, the characterisation paper thin, performances quite hammy, especially the key character of Hoskin's right hand man, played by Derek Thompson, who would go on to find fame in 'Casualty' - he was very unconvincing. He seemed to sort of sleep walk through the role. I also found it hard to get past the casting of Brian Hall, better known as the chef in Fawlty Towers, as one of Hoskins' henchmen - the face was just too familiar from the wrong context (even though it took me a while to place it).

And parts of the script really show their age, especially in this scene with Brian King's character of the bent copper talking to Hoskins about the proposed 1988 London Olympics and 'nig nogs doing the long jump..' (ouch). Yes, historically accurate and all that, but I'm sure the actor would wince in later years to remember the line. No different I suppose to Vietnamese being called slopes in Apocalypse Now or the amount of times Samuel L Jackson says 'nigger' in Jackie Brown - it's authentic without being necessarily gratuitous, but grates (more so in the 1979 examples).

The scriptwriter Barrie Keefe did his research amongst the hard men associates of the Krays and others, but for such a dramatic story the film has a curious lack of tension and is oddly paced. Hard to connect with any characters or their eventual fate. The very young Dexter Fletcher appears in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment (he would have been about 13 years old) with some street kids being cheeky to Hoskins. I thought the soundtrack (by Curved Air's Francis Monkman) was awful, very dated, even for the time, trying far too hard.

The film features Pierce Brosnan as an IRA hitman in his first (non-speaking) film role. Lew Grade wanted it for TV transmission originally but was not keen on what he saw as the glorification of the IRA, and demanded substantial cuts. Ultimately George Harrison's company Handmade Films would step into the breach and give it an uncut cinema release. Film maker Sé Merry Doyle recalls considerable police and special branch presence at the opening in Dublin,  monitoring the crowd in the old Irish Film Theatre (now the Sugar Club), with Helen Mirren also in attendance.

What's interesting in the current climate is how pro-Europe Hoskins' character is, and how he might have been fairly knocked out by the scale of development that came in Thatcher's wake, far in excess of his dreams I imagine. Interesting too that his character's name, Shand is so phonetically close to one of the symbols of London's prodigious development, the Shard.

Barrie Keeffe wrote a sequel, Black Easter Monday, set twenty years after the events of the first film. It opened with Bob Hoskins' character escaping from the IRA after the car was pulled over by police. Hoskins would retire to Jamaica, then return to stop the East End being taken over by the Yardies. Perhaps it was just as well the film was never made.

My Father took me on my first visit to London for a few days in Easter '81. We went to see Rowan Atkinson do a stand up show, but could only get one ticket, so Dad let me go in and he went to see The Long Good Friday, but left before the end to come and collect me (I suppose it never occurred to him that I could wait till the film finished). It was years before he saw it in full on TV. He took this photo of me on Carnaby Street. Turns out the film's production office was located here !

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