Bob Hoskins had a long and distinguished movie career, bringing intensity and his trademark cockney accent to iconic roles. But in 1979 the actor had made little impact, career wise, and was still searching for that breakout opportunity. The Long Good Friday was that role, but it could have worked out completely different if the producers had their way.
“The Mafia? I shit ’em” Harold Shand
The film also stars Helen Mirren, who needs no introduction given her career to date. But back in the late 70’s she was 33 years old and a darling of the stage. Mirren had several movies roles under her belt but none had propelled her into stardom. The Long Good Friday didn’t look to be the movie to do it either. The role of Harold Shand’s girlfriend was understated and one-dimensional in the original script. But Mirren, with the support of Hoskins, fought to make the role more significant and daily rewrites were required to create the final iconic character of Shand’s gangster mole – an intelligent, educated and elegant woman. The fact that Mirren had an uncle who was a gangster gave her instant respect among the real gangsters on set, providing a legitimacy to her role in the movie.
The development phase was fraught with issues. Initially the producers tried to dub over Hoskins’ cockney accent for an American release, but he threatened to sue them if they did. The finance for the movie had come from a television company and once they had their hands on the finished cut they decided it was too violent. They also disagreed with the political slant alluded to for the antagonists (which also riled the Thatcher government of the day). The movie was set to be broadcast at a reduced 75 minutes, trimmed down from the original 114 minute theatrical cut. At the 11th hour it was saved by one of the Beatles. George Harrison’s company Handmade Films bought the rights for around £200,000 less than the production costs. They then gave it the cinema release that was always intended. Harrison commented, after viewing the movie, that his company never would have made it as it was too violent for his liking.
“I’ll have his carcass dripping blood by midnight” Harold Shand
Both Hoskins and Mirren were lauded for the roles and it propelled them on the path to stardom. Hoskins chews up whole scenes at times, but Mirren more than holds her own in contrast. The movie is of its era, but stands the test of time because of the script and amazing performances. A famous scene, which I will not spoil for those who have not seen the movie, is a master class in acting out emotions without saying a word. If you are a fan of gangster movies, do yourself a favour and see this classic.
” No one’s heard nothing? That just ain’t natural. It’s like one of them silent, deadly farts. No clue, and then pow, you go cross-eyed.” Harold Shand
- It was the first theatrical film role for Pierce Brosnan (keep an eye out for him);
- Pierce Brosnan’s role was supposed to be completely silent but he improvised a line of dialogue and they kept it in the movie;
- The part of Harold Shand was written especially for Bob Hoskins;
- The final scene was the first to be shot;
- Real life London gangsters attended the filming;
- Dexter Fletcher appears in both The Long Good Friday and as one of the stars of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels;
- Bob Hoskins didn’t work for a year after he appeared in the movie;
- Some elements of the plot were based on true stories covered by writer Barrie Keeffe when he was a cub reporter during the criminal empire of Ronnie and Reggie Kray; and
- Ronnie Kray wrote Hoskins a fan letter after he saw the movie.