Remembering One of Bob Hoskins’ Best Films

To acknowledge the death of the versatile actor Bob Hoskins, I repost below a film recommendation from a few years ago. It was originally written to acknowledge the passing of Director John Mackenzie, but is appropriate for this latest loss to cinema as well because of Hoskins’ extraordinary performance as Harold Shand, British gangster on the make and under fire. R.I.P.

British film director John “Frenzy” Mackenzie passed away a few months ago, so honor the man and enjoy yourself at the same time by watching his best film: 1980’s thrilling, brutal The Long Good Friday.

Many American viewers struggle with the opening scenes of this film about organized crime in London because the slang comes fast and some of the Cockney accents are thick. Also, the film’s only significant flaw is that its opening scenes are confusing as characters and plot elements are thrown at the viewer one after the other in overly rapid succession. (Indeed, even at the end, as with The Big Sleep, it is hard to tie up every loose end in your mind).

But you will forget all that the moment that Bob Hoskins arrives — or rather, explodes — onto the scene accompanied by Francis Monkman’s pulsating score. As mobster Harold Shand, Hoskins dominates his scenes, projecting power, ambition and the ever-present threat of violence. And he’s far more interesting than the typical mobster in that he fantasizes about being a captain of legitimate industry. Seeing his speech about the planned development of the Canary Wharf area as his boat moves down the Thames, his head framed perfectly by the Tower Bridge in the background, is like watching James Cagney play Margaret Thatcher.

The other thing that makes Harold interesting is that his gun moll is no dim-witted tart, even though her part was written that way in the original script. Helen Mirren is at her very best as the smarter, classier half of the criminal couple at the center of the movie. Thankfully the filmmakers realized that casting Mirren just for her looks would have been a gross under utilization of her intelligence and acting skills. She has a meaty, fascinating part and she makes the most of it.

As the film opens, Harold is trying to launch a legitimate business empire but is thwarted when his criminal empire suddenly comes under attack. But by whom? He has already killed everyone who could take him on, right? Or has he somehow created a powerful new enemy?

This is the best British gangster film since “Get Carter” and it’s even better the second time through once you understand the labyrinthine plot. Note for trivia fans: this was Pierce Brosnan’s first film – he had no lines and didn’t even meet the stars (He’s looking at the camera in the back seat, not Hoskins, in those knockout final scenes).

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

4 thoughts on “Remembering One of Bob Hoskins’ Best Films”

  1. What was so astonishing about Hoskins was his range. Contrast The Long Good Friday with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (and remember that most of his scenes in the latter were filmed with a co-star who wasn't there).

    1. I agree. He could also play a gentle romantic lead (Mermaids) and the innocent who stumbles into a much nastier world than he can understand (Mona Lisa).

  2. I didn't realize that Pierce Brosnan was in that. I see he's credited as the "First Irishman."

    The most memorable (to me, anyway) Bob Hoskins performance is his portrayal of Arthur Parker in the Dennis Potter miniseries, "Pennies from Heaven."

  3. He was superb in the Nottingham based TwentyFourSeven. I was doing post grad work at the University of Nottingham when it premiered in town there.

    “To play a character as tough as this and yet to portray this socially crippled character was the biggest challenge I’ve had in years,” he added. “I’ll tell you this. This film is more important to me than anything I’ve ever done.” as today's NYTimes noted.

    A wonderful actor.

Comments are closed.