Blu-ray review: The Long Good Friday

Starring: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren
Director: John Mackenzie

long-good-friday 1“Is there no decency in this disgusting world?” There’s certainly not a whole lot in this hard-hitting British gangster movie from 1980. Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a Cockney crook who is on the eve of finalizing a lucrative dockside development project when he finds that his firm is being wiped out by unknown assailants. Or, as he puts it, “someone’s been playing Guy Fawkes with my Rolls and a touch of Jaws in the Lido”. Better round up the usual suspects – it’s going to be a long night at the abattoir.

Hoskins is brilliant in his first leading film role. An East End cheeky chappie with a dark side, his Harold is an entirely believable and rather endearing combination of earthy humour, childish innocence and physical menace – you can practically see the red mist forming in front of his eyes when he goes into berserk mode, but you also believe that he loves his mum and his mates. He shows us the various sides of Harold’s character, the John Bull patriotism, the Thatcherite politics, the back street thuggery, and the self-awareness that stands him apart from the common run of hoodlum.

Of course, equal credit for this has to go to Barrie Keeffe’s intelligent, polemically witty script, which also hands Helen Mirren one of her best early movie roles as Harold’slong-good-friday 2 posh wife. It’s a script studded with quotable Cockney humour – “Going out like a raspberry ripple,” “A sleeping partner’s one thing, but you’re in a fucking coma”, “A geezer nailed to the floor. A man of your education would definitely have spotted that.”

The Long Good Friday is a film of deep belly laughs, a film that taps into the spirit of the ’80s without being defined by it, that created one of British cinema’s most memorable characters, and – more so now than ever on this Blu-ray release – it delivers genuine shocks and moments of sweaty tension. So show some respect, know what I mean? 10/10

This Blu-ray presents a 2K transfer from the original camera negative, with sound from magnetic reels, using the 1:85 aspect ratio of the original theatrical release rather than the 4:3 ratio of some DVD transfers. The result is a film that feels bigger, more cinematic, smoother and less rough-edged than it sometimes has in the past. Some of the scenes shot with available light, particularly those on Harold’s boat, have a little long-good-friday 3dullness and grain, but many of the sequences are outstandingly crisp. In the early pub scene with Paul Freeman, you can see every detail of the drifting cigarette smoke, the ugly flock wallpaper. The scene with Harold’s mum in church has a razor-sharp depth of field and the sequence with Helen Mirren schmoozing Harold’s squeamish American visitors at Regine’s also has lots of colour and brilliancy. All in all, fans of the film making the switch-up from DVD to Blu-ray will be delighted. 8/10

It would take a long Good Friday to go through the whole lot, but here’s the gist:

Disc 1 – A nicely made 54-min documentary dating from the early Noughties, with Mirren, Hoskins and Pierce Brosnan. Topics include the genesis of the film in a script by Barrie Keeffe and how Mirren’s part was beefed up to make her less of a typical gangster’s moll. We learn that Anthony Franciosa was originally slated to play Harold’s American backer, but the part ended up going to Eddie Constantine, who was taken aback that they weren’t planning to dub him and actually expected him to speak in his own voice. ~ 7 min piece looking at scenes that were revoiced for US audiences. ~ 15 mins of new interviews: producer Barry Hanson talks about Hoskin’s early stage roles, Barrie Keeffe describes writing the script over a long weekend. ~ Audio commentary with John Mackenzie, who mentions, among other things, the beautiful weather they enjoyed as they shot the sequence involving the long-suffering Erroll in Brixton.

Disc 2 – Apaches (1977) – a 27-min health and safety film for children, shot by Mackenzie, about the dangers of playing on farms. A group of kids playing cowboys and Indians suffer terrible fates one by one – poor little Kim goes under the wheels of a tractor, Tom drowns in the slurry … although what’s most likely to send a shiver down modern children’s spines are the scary ’70s fashions. Some print damage, but the colours come up freshly. ~ A very jolly 30-min Q&A with Hoskins and Mackenzie recorded in 2000, which throws up some interesting facts and figures – it’s divulged that the budget was £800,000, with those involved being paid £15,000. ~ Over an hour of new interviews. Barrie Keeffe, who as much as anyone is the film’s auteur, is extremely interesting as he tells old stories from his days as a cub reporter in the East End – apparently being crucified to the ground was a common punishment among the gangs, which makes you wonder what they did to people they really took umbrage against. In a thoughtful and wide-ranging interview, 1st Assistant Director Simon Hinkly mentions that Hoskins had been in a stage play about the Krays, and talks about Mackenzie’s earlier TV work. Cinematographer Phil Meheux discusses his attempts to get work as a cameraman and his slow rise up the ranks at the BBC, fascinating for those who collect insider stories about the Beeb. 10/10


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