Ever since stumbling across The Long Good Friday years ago and which is one brilliant little independent British gangster film starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, I can never start the Easter weekend without thinking of this gem. This small budgeted movie which caused me to fall in love with not only Mirren, but the short dynamo of talent that is Bob Hoskins never grows old. The mists of time have obscured just how the film came to be viewed, but it was in England that I first saw it. Having lived there long enough to recognise quite a number of Brit actors who were now quite big in the world of television and film. Watching this film over Easter weekend has become a tradition and not just for the beautiful Mirren.
Helen Mirren has been acting since 1966 and she was already a seasoned professional entertainer who had chops to spare. She would go on, of course, to play the Queen, a deadly assassin in Red and Red 2 as well as star in the feel good ensemble film Calendar Girls, “based on a true story,” and in the United Kingdom she appeared in the TV miniseries, later made into a lot of TV movies, Prime Suspect. Before she became a household name, in England anyway, she played mini mobster Harold Shand’s “moll” who really was the brains behind the brawn and ambition that was Hoskins’ character.
Hoskins played an old school London gangster who longs to partner up with members of the American Mafia in order to legitimize his business by renovating the 1980 derelict London Docklands, pre Canary Wharf, as an Olympic Games venue. Unfortunately, one of Shand’s trusted “right-hand men” deliberately cheats and then murders a few IRA members whom the terrorist organization want restitution for. In a long running bombing campaign, Shand loses face with the Mafia, quite a number of his legitimate businesses, men, and finally everything else.
In The Long Good Friday all the action, that consists of the IRA’s explosive retaliation against Shad’s London mobsters, takes place over one Good Friday and the Easter weekend. The film moves forward at an accelerated rate until the English crime lord with the big dream loses his chance to become a player backed by the Cosa Nostra in the U.K. While both Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins were well known to English audiences in 1979 when the film was made, Mirren did have a slight advantage as she’d been working in the business longer than Hoskins.
One of the film’s best lines, from Hoskin’s is in the scene where the American Mafia “ambassador” explains that they will be looking elsewhere in London for partners since Shand cannot control his own turf. Shand sneers at the well-dressed snooty American gangsters and says, “Mafia? I s**t em.” The film was very well received in England and while critics loved it in the U.S. – with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95 percent – the public did not beat down cinema doors to watch the movie.
As the years have gone by, fans of the film love pointing out a young Pierce Brosnan in his first film role, before going on to become Remington Steele on American television and then later James Bond on the big screen. Among other recognizable English actors who went on to become rather famous, or at least very well known, was Dexter Fletcher, who has gone on to have a pretty prolific career on both sides of the big pond between the U.S. and the U.K.
The Long Good Friday was nominated for a BAFTA, for Hoskins as Best Actor, and won Best Motion Picture at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards, and Bob Hoskins won the Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Actor Award. Apart from being listed as one of the 100 best British Films ever, the movie made Hoskins a star, as it was his breakthrough role in the film world. Helen Mirren played a different sort of gangster’s moll. Her character was sexy, sizzling, and smart. She was, perhaps, the first eye candy in a gangster film who had a huge influence over her mobster sugar daddy. As it is Good Friday and Easter weekend, I’ll probably pop my DVD copy in the player and watch two of Britain’s finest actors proving their chops over 33 years ago. This brilliant British film can be seen on Hulu or purchased on Amazon. So if you want to take a break from searching for Easter eggs, you might give this one a go.
By Michael Smith