Monday, 20 November 2006

The Long Good Friday (1980)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 19th September 2006.

The Long Good FridayTime seems to move very differently in the DVD world.

By way of example, take this Special 25th Anniversary Edition of The Long Good Friday which was officially released to stores yesterday. Different internet sources contradict each over whether the film was originally released in 1979 or 1980, but even if we take the latter figure as being correct this '25th anniversary' is being celebrated more than a year late!

It's symptomatic of the British Region 2 problem of course. A special edition was released a couple of years ago, but missing the very good 45 minute documentary with cast and crew that the Region 1 boasted, so here we are with a 'double dip' version not too many months later with the '25th anniversary' moniker used as the justification.

I shouldn't take the piss too much, because for those of us who've not seen the film before, and missed out on that special edition, this new '3 disk version' (ignore the packaging which, unlike the adverts, boasts '2 disk edition') which arrives with the usual Amray case packaged inside a very nice tin slipcase, represents exceptional value for money. Heck there's even an 8 page booklet so densely crammed with information you'll need a strong magnifying glass if you want to be able to read it.

Set in Thatcher's early reign at the tale end of the 70's, the film tells the story of Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins in his first major role, playing... himself for the most part), a gangster who's been happily running things in London gangland for 10 years without any problems whatsoever. He's about to sign a big deal with representatives from the Mafia in the States, who come over to England on Good Friday to check they are happy with Harold and his organisation. The trip should be a formality, but suddenly things start going wrong: key staff are murdered, bombs go off all around him, and Harold desperately has to try and figure out who's got it in for him and why, before the Mafia reps rush back to the States on the first available flight.

The role was written for Hoskins, and here he's supported by an all-round cast that will be perhaps overly familiar to British TV viewers (although it took me 3/4 of the film to realise that Hoskins' no. 2 was 'Charlie' from Casualty - blimey, the guy can act, after all!). Helen Mirren plays Shand's intelligent, upper-class wife, in a role that was clearly artificially enhanced because the actress demanded more lines. While Mirren is excellent, as always, it's hard to believe a woman so bright and attractive could be in any way attracted to a rough, overly-Cockney, crude gangster like Shand. A disgustingly youthful Piers Brosnan makes his first ever film appearance as an IRA hitman, although he has no spoken lines, with his claim to fame here being that he figures in the 'iconic' final scene of the film.

The action scenes are excellent for a British budgeted movie, and the cast all do well in an intriguing tale. The only problem - and we're back to that 'time' thing again - is how dated the film feels. It honestly felt and looked more like a film made in the 60's than the 80's to this viewer. Londoners will particularly appreciate the many views of London's Docklands area when it was run-down and decaying, before it underwent redevelopment and became the mass of concrete office buildings it is now, but the hair, the cars and the incredibly dated poppy music (think The Persuaders with added cheapness) mean this is a film that really feels its age, despite what the makers may say on the DVD extra's.

The Long Good Friday screencap

The transfer is excellent, although the picture is very soft in places and this appears to be solely down to the quality of the source material. The first disk contains the film and an accompanying commentary by the director (to be honest, I never got around to hearing it - too many DVDs out this week to spare the time!) Disk 2 contains the excellent 45 minute documentary the earlier version of this release was missing, and features all the main players, including Brosnan who generously gives of his time despite the fact he only appears for a few minutes. What emerges from this featurette is that we are very lucky that this British 'classic' ever got to see the light of day, given that ITC hated it, tried to over-dub Hoskins voice and put it in 'not to be released' hell until a chance meeting between Eric Idle and Hoskins at a party resulted in HandMade Films buying it up and releasing it. UK and US trailer are included (the US trailer is far better, but completely gives the ending away!), and there is a short interview with Hoskins and the director John Mackenzie. The third disk is a CD of the music soundtrack, which is actually quite enjoyable because it works better as a 'retro pop' album than a film soundtrack per se.

The Long Good Friday is currently in strong rotation on E4, but if you like the film this '25th Anniversary' package definitely shouts 'purchase not rental' at you with its lavish packaging, contents, and rock bottom price. Recommended!

The Long Good Friday screencap

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