Friday, 22 May 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Long Good Friday (Arrow Video)

February 1981, and the opening week of "The Long Good Friday" cinema release saw me heading to my local theatre with not a little enthusiasm. I wasn't disappointed, either.
John Mackenzie's gritty take on organised crime in London delivers straight down the line, and remains one of the very best British films.
Cockney crime lord Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is very much one of the old school, refusing to deal in filthy drugs and instead relying on partnerships with corrupt councillors and dodgy Old Bill to help keep his business in front and on top. Fiercely patriotic, Harold has a vision of putting London on the map as the absolute centre of European commerce, and arranges for American counterparts to travel to 'The Smoke' with the aim of securing his support for an exciting docklands development. Charlie (Eddie Constantine)duly arrives with his lawyer in tow, but things have already started to go badly wrong.
Someone is trying to wipe out Harold's firm, with a fatal stabbing and a couple of bombs putting serious dents in Harold's personnel and his credibility.
Could it be a rival firm committed to ending a decade of peace and stability, or an organisation far more powerful than Harold and his rivals?
Shand is in danger of losing not just his potentially lucrative deal with The Mafia, but also his existing empire, and instructs Inspector Parkinson (Dave King) to discover who is responsible for the murders of his men.
When the truth emerges, it's chilling in the extreme.

I've seen "The Long Good Friday" at the cinema, on TV, video, DVD and Anchor Bay's earlier Blu-ray release, and its power down the years remains undiminished.
Part of its lasting appeal has to go down to the cast and its 2 main players in particular.
Hoskins is pure dynamite, lacing his actions and reactions with humour and exhibiting a steely determination tha his 'Hands Across The Ocean' deal will not be thwarted by anyone, while Helen Mirren is far more than a gangsters trophy wife, coming across as a smart, strong lady who can deal with almost anything and anyone.
There's sterling support too from Derek Thompson, P.A.Moriarty and Bryan Marshall as the conniving councillor who although almost permanently drunk, is able to see the clearest. Look out for a feature debut from Pierce Brosnan, too.
It's a violent, not for the faint-hearted affair, with lines of eminently quotable dialogue and complex characters that have grown in stature during the passage of time. It also boasts one of the most memorable closing scenes in British cinema history, and one which is justifiably praised and analysed in the supplementary features. The film plays to a driving Francis Monkman score, and boasts terrific photography from Phil Meheux.
A stone classic, and more than worthy of the reverential treatment bestowed by Arrow Video's Blu-ray.

This is a 2K transfer scanned on a pin-registered Arriscan, and graded on Baselight grading system. The end result is image quality that beats the previous Blu-ray release in every department. Certain scenes are almost 3D-like, with interior and exterior scenes delivering improved stability, sharpness, more realistic colour and grain which is handled with sensitivity. Another triumph for James White and David Mackenzie, with Phil Meheux lending his own expertise and observations to help deliver a flawless transfer.
The extras begin with a director's commentary track where John Mackenzie begins by declaring this was Francis Monkman's first film score and pays tribute to his compositions. John talks about the performances, with much praise for his fine cast; the challenges posed by set designs on a tight budget; the problems he faced with nervous distributors, and why the famous finale came easily to him, explaining he normally struggled with endings.

"Bloody Business: The Making Of The Long Good Friday" follows, being a 54m 52s documentary featuring interviews with Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, John Mackenzie, Phil Meheux, Pierce Brosnan and producer Barry Hanson. Shot in 2006, this documentary contains some valuable input. Helen Mirren reveals she thought her character sucked and went on to insist Victoria Shand emerged as a strong character with a major say in her husband's life. We hear why Anthony Francisosa flew in for the shoot and flew straight back; why Bob Hoskins pushed for a court case with solid backing from many fellow actors, and how his background helped to shape the character of Harold Shand.
A series of interviews follows, with Barry Hanson the first to hold forth (5m 40s). Barry recalls working with Hoskins before in a stageplay of "Richard III"; describes how Bob gave the audience confidence and notes the Shakespearean qualities of TLGF.
Screenwriter Barrie Keeffe is next in the frame (8m 28s). Barrie recalls his script for this film was the fastest he ever wrote; talks about his theatre work and of the contributions made by Bob and Helen, feeling the latter held things together in the film with her strong character.
Phil Meheux (3m 18s) explains why TLGF was originally pitched as a TV film; why he initially felt lukewarm to the gig of cinematographer and why he decided to alter one shot in this restoration.
"Hands Across The Ocean" is a 7m 10s featurette showing 5 brief sections that were revoiced to make things clearer to American audiences. Some of the phrases used would certainly be unfamiliar to many of our American friends, so "Bollocks" becomes "Balls" and "gobbed on" becomes "spat upon".
So that's the steelbook release, but there is a second disc of extras which can be found in Arrow's boxset which comprises of "The Long Good Friday", Neil Jordan's wonderful "Mona Lisa" (which also starred Bob Hoskins) and a 100 page hardback book.

This second bonus disc begins with "Apaches" (27m 26s). This short film was made in 1977, and commissioned by The Central Office Of Information on behalf of the Health and Safety executive. It's an early collaboration between Mackenzie and Meheux, with the aim of alerting rural children about the dangers of playing on farms. Here, six children adopt the characters of Apache indians, playing hide and seek and climbing aboard tractors during daily work routine.
A series of nasty accidents follows, that would have undoubtedly put the fear of God into many kids and their parents when viewing this short.The sight of school desks being cleared, names removed from coat pegs, the funeral of one who died way too young and a grief stricken mother sat beside her child's empty bed leave a powerful impression, making this a giant amongst public information films. The end credits carry a list of youngsters who had their lives cut short by farm accidents, further amplifying the overall effect of this short, sharp shock.

A Q&A with John Mackenzie and Bob Hoskins follows (27m 50s), shot at London's National Film Theatre in March 2000, and moderated by Richard Jobson who I first saw leading The Skids at London's Marquee club back in the mists of time.
We hear about the involvement of actual gangsters on the set (including an hilarious argument on the 'cutting' scene); the role of Handmade films in this amazing story;Bob talking about being re-dubbed with a Wolverhampton accent, and how advice from Bob Mackenzie was responsible for shaping his career and approach to acting.

A series of interviews follows, recorded in 2014-15.
Barry Hanson (14m 18s) Barry discusses TLGF original title ("The Paddy Factor") and where it came from; gives the lowdown on Handmade films involvement; talks about the performances of Hoskins and Mirren and states that around one quarter of the way through filming, they realised they had a classic on their hands.

Barrie Keeffe (14m 18s) Barrie chats about 60s London with the Krays and the Richardsons and how the former tried to get involved with the Mafia; explains where the spitting scene came from and recalls TLGF was his first film and an instantly memorable one.

Phil Meheux (17m 37s) Phil recalls joining the BBC as a projectionist; his rise to the role of cinematographer and how Bob Hoskins' eyesight caused several problems.

Simon Hinkley. First assistant director (18m 10s) Simon recalls working with Bob Hoskins on "Pennies From Heaven"; that Eddie Constantine was not the most popular choice to play the Mafia kingpin, and relates how several people attempted to pen a sequel to Mackenzie's film.

The interviews are rounded off with Carlotta Barrow, assistant art director (6m 9s) Carlotta talks about designing the interior of the yacht; the brilliantly staged 'upside down' scene at the abattoir and the construction of the pub that fooled many thirsty consumers. The interviews were edited by Michael Brooke who, together with Daniel Bird, played a large part in the work and expertise behind Arrow's "Boro" set and their Blu-ray of "The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne" which will be my next review here.

There's also a collectors booklet, featuring new writing on the film by BFI curator Mark Duguid, together with a nice selection of stills.
I know we all feel considerable regret that Bob Hoskins and John Mackenzie are no longer with us, but Arrow's Region B Blu-ray is a wonderful testament to their talents. Both the steelbook and the boxset are available to buy now, and stand proudly in a year of fantastic releases for UK Home Video.

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