There is a beautiful moment at the very end of The Long Good Friday that holds the most weight. Just as Bob Hoskins’s thrown in the back seat of the car, he’s confronted by a smirking, gun-toting baby faced Pierce Brosnan. This scene works on three beautiful levels. One, it introduced audiences to a very plausible Irish James Bond (which, indeed, Brosnan would play sixteen years later and similarly, director John McKenzie was considered for a Timothy Dalton vehicle).
Two, it demonstrates Bob Hoskins at the zenith of his acting ability; in a matter of seconds, he conveys fury, guilt and ultimately admiration for the tenacity of his kidnap. And three, it proved that the finesse of the British Empire, despite the size of its artillery and economy, could not withstand the might of the ‘IRA’.
Made in 1979, such a bold statement did not sit well with the mindset of the newly Thatcher led the country and the so-called glorification of the ‘IRA’ meant that Lew Grade’s Black Lion expressed doubts over the content of the material and insisted on implementing what producer Barry Hanson would later call “about 75 minutes of film that was literal nonsense”.
“The working title was The Paddy Factor,” writer Barrie Keeffe recalls. “That was slang in the seventies, used when something went wrong. It was a police thing, something like ‘those Irish’, always when something went wrong. It was definitely an insult, a pejorative, and it came from the police. We were never going to use it as a title, but it was there at the beginning. In the first draft, I wanted to write about capitalist gangsters, obsessed all about money, fighting idealists. Terrorists, idealists, fighting for that. When it’s capitalists against idealists, there is only one winner, really!”
It’s true that two of the IRA hit-men, Pierce Brosnan and Daragh O’Malley, have an undeniable style, panache and lethargy, aided by their obvious sex appeal, but they’re not the only romanticised vagrants seen in the film’s 109 minutes. Paul Barber’s ‘Errol The Ponce’ looks remarkably well put together for a heroin addict, Hoskins’s thugs (namely Paul Freeman’s Colin and Derek Thompson’s Jeff) much too pretty to be real East End London thugs. Ken Loach this ain’t. Instead, it’s a lean, mean, spiffing British gangster film that Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughan have continuously tried to emulate in the 35 years since its release.
In place of social realism, we get terrific one-liners (“The mafia? I’ve shit ‘em’ ‘The Yanks love snobbery. They really feel they’ve arrived in England if the upper class treats ’em like shit”. “Well, let’s put it this way. Apart from his asshole being about fifty yards away from his brains, and the choirboys playing “hunt the thimble” with the rest of him, he ain’t too happy”), a never better Bob Hoskins and some great set-up pieces. Anyway, political ideals, naturally prevalent in 1980, should now be curtailed in favour of the high octane thrills available on screen. That said, such ideals led the filmmakers to such disagreements that the end result was sold to George Harrison’s ‘Handmade Films’. As a result, the film’s release was delayed for more than 12 months, a blessing in disguise, as the film fits in with the rise of the economics of Thatcherism than the United Kingdom of the 1970s.
But the film crackles along with a razor-sharp beat, bolstered by a winning sense of confidence and self-assurance. The film shows a muscular talent in the lead, guiding viewers into the new Europe. In some ways, it’s a piece about the Brexit debate, showing one man who understands that London is better off in a large system than outside.