Completed in 1979, the year of Margaret Thatcher’s first general election win, and released in 1980, the Long Good Friday is a compelling London gangster movie that also reflects major anxieties, opportunities and economic changes taking place in the UK at that time.
Stepney-born criminal boss Harold Shand, unforgettably portrayed by the late Bob Hoskins, is seeking to move into (debatably) legitimate business with plans to redevelop part of the decaying Docklands, including building a casino. He has a dodgy London politician on his side and is trying to persuade a US Mafia firm to go into partnership with him.
In this terrific scene on his yacht on the Thames, Harold sets out his patriotic vision for a new age of truly global national greatness, centred on a regenerating London and aided by membership of the European Economic Community. “So it’s important that the right people mastermind the new London,” Harold declaims. And, yes, that’s Helen Mirren there with him.
But Harold has a weakness, which the Mafia man alludes to in the scene. Although he’s scanning far horizons, a big part of him is living in the past. The plot also concerns money raised in London for the Provisional IRA and carried across the Irish Sea by a member of Harold’s “corporation” without his knowledge. Harold becomes aware of this and what its consequences have been, but ignores advice against tangling with the Provos. His command of the capital is not as total as he thinks.
In 1982, two years after the film came out, Hoskins took BBC film critic Barry Norman on a walk through some of the Dockland space Harold had his eye on, criticising new office blocks rising along the river bank and saying that if anything the Long Good Friday understated what was happening in real life.
“It makes the Sixties redevelopment epidemic look like a little rash,” he said. “People used to live here. They’ve stacked them all up in concrete blocks.” Hoskins’ diatribe takes in broken developer promises, lack of housing for ordinary people and dead zones where regeneration was meant to be. I can’t embed the clip of his walkabout with Norman, but you can watch it here or via London SE1 here. It is 35 years old, but in some ways neither it nor The Long Good Friday have gone out of date at all.
PS: There’s an excellent piece about the movie on the BFI website.