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The Long Good Friday

Year: 1980
Production Co: Black Lion Films
Director: John Mackenzie
Writer: Barrie Keeffe
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Alan Ford, Pierce Brosnan, Dexter Fletcher

If you came of age in the 80s like I did you knew Bob Hoskins as the kindly knockabout Uncle type in movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Hook or the distinctly humanist love interest in Mermaids. The idea he'd be a fearsome, bloodthirsty gangers (as older moviegoers knew him) felt ridiculous.

And the great thing about his role here is that he's no less a lovable teddy bear type than you've seen him anywhere else. It makes his demeanour when he has a bunch of suspected saboteurs strung up in a warehouse preparing to cut them all to make them talk all the more terrifying.

Like Brick Top (one of the best villains in cinema history from Guy Ritchie's Snatch, and he's in this film somewhere, although I didn't recognise him), he's a rhyming slang-spouting geezer who's just as likely to complain about the bloody weather over a pint as he is blow you away with a shotgun.

He plays East End mobster Harold, a figure I gather from my knowledge of film history was so well written and acted he became the progenitor for a million facsimiles – Brick Top among them. Though his empire has been built on organised crime, Harold is preparing to go legit, trying to convince American mafia connections to invest in his vision to transform London's docklands into a property development boomtown (something that – as history shows – actually happened).

The film is a whirlwind of parties, dinners, drinks, toasts and celebrations of the impending merger, Harold, his main squeeze Victoria (Helen Mirren) and his various trusted Lieutenants running hither and yon trying to orchestrate it all to impress the Americans, Harold sounding for all the world like a corporate executive with his talk of expansions, future, partnerships and the like.

But while he and his top brass make their enthusiastic pitch across the single day of the title, a shadow descends. Harold's premises and front companies are being destroyed by bombs at an alarming rate, scary enough for any business even without nervous financial partners who'll back out at the first sniff of malevolent competition.

As Harold, Victoria and their top enforcers try to steer the Americans away from the carnage and continue to wine and dine them, they dispatch their scariest muscle to try to get to the bottom of the attacks – which leads to the infamous warehouse scene, about ten local thugs begging for their lives while tied to the ceiling from their feet.

The truth behind the bombings and how it comes together in the final scene (the cause of the whole catastrophe is only referred to once by Harold, and only in passing, with no idea of the reckoning it's building to) is shocking and nihilistic and has to be in the top ten bleakest endings in cinema history. And yes, that is a pre-pubescent-looking Pierce Brosnan holding the gun.

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