Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Long Good Friday (1980)

One of the best gangster movies ever made gets a sparkling overhaul and upgrade (oh yes, it even looks better than the previous Studio Canal Blu-ray) courtesy of Arrow Films, and with more extras than one of Harold Shand's gang members could shake a machete at.
        For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, here it is in a nutshell: throughout the 1970s, Harold Shand, through his 'Corporation' has ruled London's ganglands. King to their robber barons, his crime syndicate has kept gang squabbles to a minimum whilst raking in a fortune. But Harold has bigger plans, that involve going 'legit' by investing in the development of London's docklands. But he needs Mafia money to bring things to fruition. Unfortunately, on the day the mafia visit, his empire is systematically destroyed by bombings and assassinations. The reason for the attacks becomes apparent as the day goes on, and they're coming from somewhere entirely unexpected.

The term 'instant classic' gets bandied about a lot these days, but that's pretty much what THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY was, gaining plaudits on its original release and securing the reputation of Handmade Films as a company to watch. If anything time has made this film even better. It's a fascinating (and accurate-feeling) snapshot of England at the end of the cold grim 1970s, and of the kind of self-serving individuals who were about to take it into the next decade. Harold desperately wants to be a respected businessman, when in fact he's no better than the little kid (a tiny Dexter Fletcher) who threatens to slash his tyres if he doesn't hand over a few quid. "That's how I started," he says, the irony that he hasn't really changed completely lost on him. 

        The film cleverly depicts the destruction of Harold's empire by the defilement of icons of British tradition (the local church, the favourite pub). Even Tower Bridge is used in a beautifully framed and utterly ironic shot where Harold gives the kind of speech that one is more used to hearing from politicians nowadays.
        Everyone involved with this is on top form. Barrie Keeffe's screenplay is well constructed and the dialogue just crackles. John MacKenzie's direction is thoughtful, with an emphasis on the kind of unglamorous ruthlessness and melancholy irony that British crime cinema so excels at.

The cast gives us a fascinating mix of stars past (Dave King made his mark as a comedian in the 1960s in movies like 1961's GO TO BLAZES, ALPHAVILLE's Eddie Constantine) present (Helen Mirren was already well established and would go on to even greater things) and future (Derek CASUALTY Thompson, Paul Freeman in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Kevin McNally in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, Pierce Brosnan in James Bond, Alan Ford in everything) as well as a few well-known BritHorror faces (Patti Love was the witch in Norman J Warren's TERROR, Karl Howman from EXPOSE). Towering over all of these, in presence if not stature, is a career-making performance from Bob Hoskins. Already famous for starring in the BBC's PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (and ON THE MOVE!) this was his breakthrough role, giving him worldwide fame and deservedly so.

Arrow's Blu-ray transfer looks so good anyone familiar with this film will uttering gasps of delight at pretty much every scene. It's become a bit of a cliche in the age of Blu-ray but this film really has never looked this good. Extras on the single disc (Blu-ray and DVD) edition include a John MacKenzie commentary, a making of, a US and UK soundtrack comparison, separate interviews with producer Barry Hanson, Barrie Keeffe and DP Phil Meheux, as well as a collector's booklet with new writing on the film.

There's also a massive 6 disc (!) limited edition box set which will be coming out a little later. Disc 1 is the same as the above. Disc 2 includes the best horror film ever made for children. John MacKenzie directed APACHES, the 1970s public information film about how easy it was to die on the farm, and it scarred a generation of schoolchildren, myself included, when it was shown to ten years olds in rural areas of the UK. I can't think of a better extra on a set like this and full marks to whoever it was at Arrow who thought of it. You also get a lot more interview footage and a Q&A with Bob Hoskins and John MacKenzie. The rest of the set will comprise Neil Jordan's MONA LISA (which will also receive a separate release and will be reviewed later). This set will also come with a 100 page hardback book that includes a touching introduction from Michael Brooke about its star.
            I've always loved British crime films, from Val Guest's HELL IS A CITY to GET CARTER and beyond. THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is one of the very best of a tradition that strove to portray the criminal existence as bleak, grim, unforgiving and utterly unglamorous. Whereas the Hollywood mainstream strove to suggest there might be some honour amongst thieves, the UK concentrated on rubbing audiences' nose in the harsh realities of a life of mistrust, violence, thuggery and betrayal. I cannot think of a better film to be deserving of the care and attention Arrow have lavished on this. One of the releases of this or any year.

Arrow Films are putting out THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY in a dual format region B Blu-ray and region 2 DVD edition steelbook (see the top of the page) which came out on Monday 4th May. The six disc set (see the bottom picture) comes out on Monday 18th May

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