Color, 1980, 114m.
Directed by John Mackenzie
Starring Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson, Eddie Constantine, Pierce Brosnan
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD), Studio Canal (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Image (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Criterion, Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The modern British gangster film typified by films like Get Carter and Villain had almost faded away in the early '80s when it got an unexpected shot in the arm courtesy of The Long Good Friday, one of the first major successes from George Harrison's HandMade Films. Scottish director John Mackenzie (Unman, Wittering and Zigo and Red Shift) hit a career high with this film, which made an international name for Bob Hoskins, best known at the time for starring in the classic Dennis Potter miniseries Pennies from Heaven.
Tough-as-nails mobster Harold Shand (Hoskins) is hustling to put into action a plan to transform London into a major international player with the worlds of real estate and crime united together in a new European union. One of his biggest prospective benefactors is Charlie (Alphaville's Constantine), an American bigwig whose generosity is put in jeopardy when Shand's associates start dying violently around him thanks to bullets and some well-placed bombs. Over the course of the Easter weekend, he has to figure out who's trying to sabotage him and what kind of forces are really at work.
As if the prospect of Hoskins operating at full force weren't enough of an enticement, the film also features a terrific supporting performance by Helen Mirren (in between Caligula and Excalibur, believe it or not) as Victoria, Harold's mistress, who plays a pivotal role in the proceedings. The film manages to clip along at a very quick pace considering it runs almost two hours, with brief but potent moments of violence keeping the viewer on edge (including a grisly bit of business involving a meat freezer). On top of that is the now-familiar score by legendary session musician Francis Monkman and a brief but unmissable early role for a pre-Remington Steele Pierce Brosnan, and you end up with one of the most memorable crime films in British history.
Not surprisingly, the enthusiastic reviews and fervent cult following have kept this film at the top of the heap among the HandMade library as it has gone through numerous video distributors over the years alongside such company stable mates as Time Bandits and Mona Lisa. Criterion issued a 1999 DVD in a so-so transfer with just a trailer, while Anchor Bay revisited it in 2006 with a solid Mackenzie commentary, trailer, a Cockney glossary to help Yank viewers, a poster and ad gallery, and a 54-minute documentary, "Bloody Business," with Mackenzie, Hoskins, Mirren, Brosnan, producer Barry Hanson, and cinematographer Phil Meheux recalling their work on the film including its genesis as a TV project and the volatile political conditions of the time. Four years later, the film passed over in the US to Image, who gave it a halfhearted reissue on Blu-ray and DVD with just the trailer and a serviceable but unspectacular HD transfer.
The 2015 revisit in the UK from Arrow boasts a new 2K restoration from the original negative, and it's available both as a standalone steelbook edition (with one Blu-ray and one DVD) as well as a more elaborate multi-disc set with Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa and exclusive extras (more on that in a moment). The new transfer looks terrific with a level of care and attention the film has sorely lacked in the past; there's really no room for complaint here at all as the colors and level of detail are more impressive than it looked in most theaters at the time. You can even count the hairs on everyone's head and make out details in the night scenes that were completely obscured before. The LPCM mono track is fine given the limitations of the source material, and for the record, this is the original, unaltered soundtrack with Cockney accents intact.
An 8-minute featurette, "Hands Across the Ocean," goes into some depth about the changes to the soundtrack made when the film made its way to America, and the Mackenzie commentary and "Bloody Business" doc from the prior release are ported over here as well. In addition you get new interviews with Hanson (6 minutes), writer Barrie Keeffe (9 minutes), and Meheux (4 minutes) about the film with more of an emphasis on looking back decades into the past as they recall the late Hoskins' working process, the real-life influences on the crafting of the story, and the decisions that led to the dark, gritty aesthetic of the film's look. The standard theatrical trailer is included as well.
Exclusive to that aforementioned deluxe set with Mona Lisa is another Blu-ray containing Apaches, a 27-minute film directed by Mackenzie and shot by Meheux commissioned by the Health & Safety Executive. It's a very potent scare film designed to teach kids about the dangers of playing unsupervised around farming equipment, with a narrative about some tykes out in the countryside playing cowboys and Indians with unfortunate results. This is exactly the kind of thing that would leap out and grab you by the throat on one of those BFI informational comp DVDs and still holds up well today. Meheux offers a new intro (just under two minutes), while other extras returning back to the main feature include a half-hour Q&A with Hoskins and Mackenzie at the National Film Theater for a screening in 2000 and a batch of new additional interviews with Hanson (17 minutes), Keeffe (15 minutes), Meheux (18 minutes), first assistant director Simon Hinkly (19 minutes) and assistant art director Carlotta Barrow (7 minutes). One recurring theme is the film's often overlooked tonal variety, with several of its witty lines and playful use of Cockey accents becoming part of the common vernacular. Also included is an illustrated booklet with a new essay about the film by film critic and BFI curator Mark Duguid.