4 out of 5 stars

John Mackenzie’s low-budget British classic, The Long Good Friday, is a seminal gangster film, although often overlooked these days in favour of the more modern, post-Tarantino approach pioneered by Guy Ritchie in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Barrie Keeffe’s screenplay is far less comedic and the dialogue less quotable, but it’s more grounded and believable as a look back at the UK’s late-1970s anxieties as it entered a new decade as a leading member of the European Union.

That opening detail immediately places the film in a bygone era. With the UK having exited the EU in 2016, it’s rather amusing to find working-class London gangster Harold Shane (Bob Hoskins) championing the merits of the Common Market. His money-making scheme also involves redeveloping London Docklands with the assistance of visiting American mafioso Charlie (Eddie Constantine).

It’s over the Easter bank holiday weekend that Shand’s problems begin. Desperate to impress the Americans he needs to partner with to make his fortune, his criminal empire comes under threat with a string of bombings and the murder of his childhood friend, Colin (Paul Freeman), at a public swimming pool. The film mostly follows Shand as he attempts to figure out who’s behind these acts before they spook the mafia away from his deal. He questions a number of his acquaintances and business partners, and suspicion eventually falls on the IRA, who seems to have a reason to seek vengeance on him.

The most notable thing when watching The Long Good Friday all these years later is how fascinating the cast is, particularly as so many relative unknowns went on to achieve greater success—even if many of them are admittedly lesser-known British actors best known for television. But it’s great fun spotting actor and director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) as a delinquent kid, sitcom favourite Karl Howman, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980) villain Paul Freeman, EastEnders soap legend Gillian Taylforth, Only Fools and Horses star Paul Barber, Guy Ritchie favourite Alan Ford (Snatch), and isn’t that the chef from Fawlty Towers? Pierce Brosnan even appears for a brief scene, making his screen debut as an IRA operative.

But the most fascinating face — for British viewers, anyway — is Derek Thompson as Shand’s trusted right-hand man Jeff. Thompson would later join the cast of BBC medical drama Casualty in 1986, playing nurse Charlie Fairhead, and only left that role in 2024 after 38 years. For a lot of people, it’s surprising to see him not wearing a nurse’s uniform, and he’s really good in The Long Good Friday! It feels like his career could have taken a very different path if he’d pursued more roles in this vein.

Of course, it’s Bob Hoskins who dominates the film and has lingered in the memory. This was his first major film role, although he was known for Dennis Potter’s acclaimed television series Pennies from Heaven. He makes an immediate impression. It’s no wonder his career went from strength to strength until Mona Lisa (1986) brought him to even wider attention in Hollywood and helped him land the lead in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). He’s simply perfect at playing a tough London gangster, thanks to his somewhat stereotypical physicality in the “Al Capone” mould—short, stocky, balding, and snub-nosed.

Hoskins ensures Shand is believably tough and ruthless, but also fun and personable when the need arises. And that’s always been the appeal of British gangsters on film: they’re often salt-of-the-earth types who might have been your best mate down the pub if they hadn’t been drawn into a life of crime. Indeed, it’s easy to appreciate Shand’s undoubted love for London, his critique of how the working class is treated in Thatcher’s Britain, or to smile at his rant about the “Dunkirk spirit” to the Americans who ultimately reject him for being too chaotic a business proposition.

Helen Mirren (Excalibur) is also great as Victoria, Shand’s beautiful girlfriend, schmoozing with the Yanks at The Savoy hotel while her boyfriend is busy hanging suspects upside-down from meat hooks for interrogation. There’s also a nice development when it becomes clear Jeff is besotted with her, his boss’s girl, although it’s a shame this potential subplot is only hinted at and the film doesn’t have time to develop it further. 

Elements of The Long Good Friday have certainly aged, beyond its concerns with the IRA and the fact that the London Docklands weren’t yet regenerated into the home of the O2 Arena and the like. It’s an aptly long film, and yet not a great deal happens that couldn’t have been trimmed to 90 minutes to improve the story’s flow. We’re also so accustomed to London gangster films being hilarious and violent that you need to adjust to director John Mackenzie’s more straight-laced and relatively bloodless approach—although it does have its moments of gun and knife violence.

The film was also quite prescient in its understanding that Brits should fear organised terrorism more than gangsters, who largely operate within their underworld and have a certain sympathy for the typically lower classes from which they hail.

The Long Good Friday also features one of the most discussed film endings (which I won’t spoil). However, its power comes from a simple close-up of Bob Hoskins contemplating his fate, as he cycles through shock, anger, disappointment, resentment, and perhaps even a grudging acceptance.

Amazingly, writer Barrie Keeffe did write a sequel called Black Easter Monday. This would have revealed that Shand escaped to Jamaica, only to return to the East End two decades later and find his territory ironically taken over by the Yardies. It sounds intriguing, and part of me wishes it had been made in the early 2000s. However, before he died in 2019, Keeffe commented, “In some ways, I’m glad we didn’t [make it] because sequels are usually diminishing returns. To put it up there with Casablanca, no one wants Casablanca II.”

UK | 1980 | 114 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • FRENCH

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Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Special Features:

Arrow Video’s new 4K Ultra HD reissue of The Long Good Friday breathes new life into the film, thanks to the clarity of the picture. This helps to make it feel a touch more expensive than it was to produce. However, it can’t perform miracles. Cinematographer Phil Méheux’s portrayal of late-1970s London, while fitting for the period, is quite drab visually, which acts as a limitation.

There’s even a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which makes a great improvement on the mono track. This isn’t always the case with films of a certain vintage. It’s particularly pleasing to hear Francis Monkman’s memorable theme given this treatment, while the mix does a fantastic job of anchoring the dialogue in noisier sequences.

  • 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible).
  • Original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 and Dolby Atmos audio.
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Audio commentary by director John Mackenzie.
  • ‘Bloody Business’ — a documentary about the making of The Long Good Friday, including interviews with John Mackenzie, stars Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Pierce Brosnan, producer Barry Hanson and cinematographer Phil Méheux.
  • ‘Hands Across the Ocean’ — a comparison of the differences between the UK and US soundtracks.
  • Q&A with Bob Hoskins and John Mackenzie, moderated by Richard Jobson.
  • Interviews with Barry Hanson, Phil Méheux, writer Barrie Keeffe, first assistant director Simon Hinkly and assistant art director Carlotta Barrow.
  • Original trailers.
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Hannah Gillingham.
  • Double-sided foldout poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Hannah Gillingham.
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Mark Duguid, an excerpt from Titan Books’ Very Naughty Boys: The Amazing True Story of Handmade Films by Robert Sellers about the making of The Long Good Friday, and contemporary reviews of the film.
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Cast & Crew

director: John Mackenzie.
writer: Barrie Keeffe.
starring: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson, Eddie Constantine, Paul Freeman, P.H Moriarty, Stephen Davies, Brian Hall, Alan Ford, Paul Barber, Pauline Melville, Nigel Humphreys, Karl Howman, Gillian Taylforth, George Coulouris & Pierce Brosnan.