Long Good Friday, The

  • The List
  • 4 September 2006

The Mafia's marina

To mark the 25th anniversary release of the greatest British gangster film ever made Martin Howden goes for a boat ride with director John Mackenzie.


In The Long Good Friday, Harold Shand takes a group of businessman on a luxury yacht over the Thames to entice them to invest in his scheme to develop the run down Docklands area. With Tower Bridge looming behind him, Shand holds his audience’s reluctant gaze and starts to speak. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. I’m not a politician; I’m a businessman with a sense of history. I’m also a Londoner. Our country is not an island anymore. We’re a leading European state. I believe this is a decade where London will become Europe’s capital. Having cleared away the outdated, we’ve got mile after mile, acre after acre of land for our prosperity.

‘No other city has got right in its centre such an opportunity for profitable progress, so it’s important the right people mastermind the new London.’

Twenty-five years later and The List is granted an audience with The Long Good Friday director John Mackenzie on the same boat ride that Shand took. His words ended up being extremely prophetic, where once the London docks were desolation, now stands skyscrapers, luxury houses and renovated warehouses.

‘We actually made the film before Thatcher came to power but there was a feeling in the air. A really strong feeling. It was like “We want to make money man”,’ laughs Mackenzie.

‘In a strange way, I sort of liked Harold’s idea about the Docklands because it was a devastating area. This used to be a thriving port and it finally seemed that people were going to do something about it. Even if there was crookery and a lot of people were going to be cheated. It was just the fact that there was going to be an energy about the place.’

Does he hold the same belief for his native city Glasgow? “I have heard that there are going to be big changes on the harbour side area. It’s inevitable really. It’s a great city in its own right but it needs to keep up with today. It’s inevitable that the quayside was going to change. I think we live in a different time where change is not seen as a bad thing. The miner’s strike and things like that are gone. We live in an entrepreneurial society where as long as people get work they are happy.’

The Long Good Friday may be a compelling time capsule of Britain in the late 70s/early 80s, a time when the IRA plagued the capital and Thatcher’s reign was in it’s terrible infancy but its dialogue still crackles with a prescient wry observation and lashings of irony. Mackenzie agrees: ‘There is religion, corruption, politics and terrorism all in there. It was mainly the terrorist one though that I like. It’s an intriguing one. How can you fight a war against terrorists. We’re still asking that. We talked to the IRA in the end and we’ll have to talk to today’s terrorists as well.’

The Long Good Friday 25th Anniversary Edition is released Mon 18 Sep.

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