17 May 2007

The Long Good Friday 1980-2007

Lovers of British films are today gathering to scatter soggy popcorn on the sticky floors of darkened independent cinemas up and down the country in memory of classic 1980s movie The Long Good Friday, which has passed away following news that it is to get a "Hollywood makeover" from director Paul W S Anderson.

The Long Good Friday was born in 1980, the gritty and resolutely unglamorous tale of gangster Harold Shand's attempts to give some legitimacy to his East End criminal empire by redeveloping London's Docklands in time for the 1988 Olympics, in the face of the threat from IRA terrorists(1). Starring Bob Hoskins, the man who stunned the world in BBC Adult Learning series "On the Move" and dumbfounded critics with his devastating performance in "Super Mario Bros", and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (or possibly Helen Mirren), The Long Good Friday was rightly hailed as one of the greatest ever gangster movies, able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside such legends as Mike Hodges's savage revenge tale "Get, Carter" and brilliant crime-caper "The Italian Job" in the pantheon of British cinema.

Together this triumvirate would inspire Britons throughout the 80s, 90s and noughties to believe that they could create movies capable of standing against Hollywood's best without always having to resort to long, slow pans across rolling countryside and Helena Bonham-Carter/Kate Winslet in a bosom-flattering Georgian frock or getting Richard Curtis to write yet another piece of heartwarming drivel about how a floppy-haired, repressed Brit living in a racially-segregated London where it always snows at Christmas can be saved from disaster by the presence of a moderately bankable Hollywood star name.

Yet the mere fact of greatness has never ensured proper recognition. Soon the British gangster movie was not merely inspiring the great and the good but also the not-so-great, the frankly-indifferent and the bloody awful. Where once giants like Harold Shand and Jack Carter had stalked Britain's grimy streets, now they were filled with British bratpackers, desperate to prove their serious acting credentials and get over the fact that daddy ran a drama school/was a former Doctor Who by dropping the odd aitch and "giving it large" ... and Guy Ritchie.

Such an end would be piteous enough but worse was to come. Concerned by the respect that was still being shown in some quarters to the ageing British threesome, the big boys over in Hollywood decided to send hitmen across the pond to sort the trio out. The first to fall was The Italian Job, knocked down by a BMW-owned Mini Cooper in a Los Angeles street far from its Milanese home. Next came Get Carter, mysteriously plunged into a river of bad notices, weighed down by a concrete-shoed performance from Sylvester Stallone.

Only The Long Good Friday was left. Hunted through the streets of London, it was eventually cornered in an East End abattoir, where it was hung from a meat-hook for days, its mangled corpse later being discovered dumped on a Miami Street by the director responsible for such luminous moments of cinema as "Mortal Kombat" and "Resident Evil".

The Long Good Friday will be buried alongside the rapidly-rotating coffins of Get Carter and The Italian Job. All three are survived by fond memories of the originals, dreadful remakes and, with any luck, a British version of Chinatown set in Somerset starring Justin Lee Collins, its final line "Forget it Jake, this is Nempnett Thrubwell"

(1) devotees of NORAID are requested to read "IRA terrorists" as craic-loving, happy-go-lucky freedom fighters, who never blew up an innocent person without a smile on their lips and song in their heart.