Having seen this British gangster classic shortly after it’s North American release on home video back in the early eighties, like most viewers I found myself a Bob Hoskins fan for life. His performance carries that much power and weight.
Utilizing a series of quick cuts and little dialogue, director John Mackenzie follows a suitcase of money and Paul Freeman over the first few minutes of the film that leaves two men dead in a roadside ditch. Fast forward to a mysterious woman in a funeral procession spitting on a man’s face at which point we cut to an incoming airplane and a wonderful grinding soundtrack commences from Francis Monkman. Into frame walks bullet shaped Bob Hoskins parading through the airport as if he owns it.
He’s Harold Shand. He’s the ruler of the British underworld. “I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman.”
Hoskins is an on screen force like no other who along with his beautiful high class wife, Helen Mirren are about to entertain incoming Mafioso from New York. Hoskins is about to solidify his empire by building a gambling casino in London and is looking for partners. He’s at the peak of his empire but on Good Friday, it’s all about to come crashing down.
Unaware of just who has marked his empire for death, in one day he suffers the loss of his close friend Freeman at the hands of a very young, Pierce Brosnan and 2 bombs are triggered in wonderful cinematic fashion. One taking out his Rolls and the other laying waste to a high class restaurant that he is approaching with Mirren and his intended Mafia partner, Eddie Constantine.
Our New York partners are not impressed with what appears to be a gang war.
The gentlemanly Hoskins all but disappears when he turns his army of thugs loose on the streets to do whatever it takes to get the goods on just who is attacking his empire. This leads to perhaps the most memorable scene in the film when Hoskins’ gang have rounded up the local street trash and bring them into a beef freezer suspended upside down as he launches into reading them the riot act.
The hoods closest to him as personal bodyguards are wonderfully played by Derek Thompson who almost seems to be an adopted son and the stone cold P.H. Moriarty as “Razors.”
Still the mystery remains but when the local police on his payroll tell him the bombs are of I.R.A. origin, the mystery begins to unravel itself and Hoskins is going to turn loose his violent temper on those around him when the pieces fall into place.
It’s hard not to get swept up in the force of Hoskins’ performance here. But equally important and just as good is Mirren as his wife who also wants to remain at the top and relishes her social standing. This is not a role of the gangster’s moll. She’s smart and sexy yet in one scene with Bob she practically breaks your heart when her fears surface of their impending doom.
Like many films I truly love, it’s fun to hear the stories and trivia that went into the production. Apparently Anthony Franciosa was scheduled to play the American mobster but bowed out. Easy from our vantage point to say big mistake Tony, but who knew the film would be revered as a British classic.
The film itself experienced some big setbacks that almost deprived us of a one of a kind underworld tale. According to the bonus documentary on the Anchor Bay release, the film almost wound up cut by over twenty minutes and dumped onto network television. On top of that, Hoskins was dubbed at one point but he threatened a lawsuit forcing the original production company to back off.
The film was subsequently sold to Hand Made Films who released it to great acclaim for all involved.
Back to Bob one more time…….
I just love the way he seems to struggle with every word he utters as if his collar is too tight. It’s very rare that I see an actor for the first time and am totally swept up in his performance and presence. Perhaps I’ve seen far too many films over the years to fully appreciate someone new. Not so here. I remember when his Mona Lisa was released a few short years later, I went opening night and was pulling for him during the Oscar telecast.
This is one Good Friday you won’t want to miss.