Retiring British actor Bob Hoskins leaves behind an impressive career
English actor Bob Hoskins is an odd sort of screen idol. He’s short, squat and mostly bald, a gravelly-voiced gremlin with big bushy eyebrows and a broad Cockney accent.
Yet Hoskins, like frequent co-star Michael Caine, has become one of Hollywood’s most reliable assets.
Hoskins announced last week that he was retiring from acting after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease
American audiences probably know Hoskins best from his starring roles in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Mermaids,” as well as a long string of supporting roles in everything from “Hook” to “Nixon” to “Snow White and the Huntsman.” (He’s also infamous for playing Mario to John Leguizamo’s Luigi in the bizarre “Super Mario Bros.”)
In his native Britain, however, Hoskins enjoys a strong reputation as a serious actor. He earned an Oscar nomination for his turn in “Mona Lisa” as an ex-con who becomes entangled with a beautiful call girl.
I’d like to think that some of Hoskin’s best work can be seen in 1980′s “The Long Good Friday.” Below, courtesy of She Likes to Watch’s occasional series “What to Watch,” is my take on the British crime drama.
Prosperous London gangster Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is close to closing the deal of a lifetime.
With the financial backing of the American Mafia, he plans to redevelop the rundown London Docklands as prime real estate, netting huge profits and securing his place as a legitimate businessman in the process. All Harold and his girlfriend, Victoria (Helen Mirren), have to do is entertain shady tycoon Charlie (Eddie Constantine) over the Easter weekend.
Things go swimmingly at first. Then Harold’s right-hand man (Paul Freeman) is murdered, a car bomb claims the life of another henchman, and an explosion nearly scorches his high-class casino.
With his plans and his place in the London underworld in jeopardy, Harold must scramble to keep his entire criminal kingdom from slipping through his fingers.
Like “Get Carter” before it, “The Long Good Friday” paved the way for a number of British gangster flicks, from “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” to “The Limey,” “Layer Cake,” “Sexy Beast” and “Forty Inch Chest.” (The film also features a young Pierce Brosnan in one of his earliest film roles.)
For starters, this taut, tightly scripted thriller is packed to the gills with hardened crooks and corrupt cops, led by the remarkable Harold.
Foul-tempered, foul-mouthed and fiercely loyal to queen, church and country, he belongs to an earlier, more brutal era — a time when even the most depraved criminals stuck close to a gruesome code. Only in Virginia’s arms is he openly vulnerable.
“The Long Good Friday” doubles as a commentary on the changing face of capitalism.
Whereas the crime lords of the 1950s and ’60s made few attempts to disguise their malevolent nature, by the late 1970s the same enterprising thugs now sport designer suits, tool around in sports cars, and entertain guests on sleek yachts drifting down the Thames. (It’s worth noting that Harold calls his criminal network “the Corporation,” a far more congenial name than “La Costa Nostra.”)
Virginia, a tough, shrewd blonde, is part of that elegant public image. No mere gangster’s moll, she’s far better suited for the cutthroat world of modern business.
If Harold’s old-fashioned methods have all the subtlety of a blunt cricket bat to the skull, Virginia’s streamlined approach resembles a thin blade slipping into flesh — quick, quiet and with a minimum of fuss. She, like the Americans, understands the importance of finesse.
Beautifully acted, brilliantly paced and entertaining from start to finish, “The Long Good Friday” is one of the best crime dramas to come out of England in the 20th century. Don’t miss it.
“The Long Good Friday” is currently available via Blu-Ray, DVD and Netflix.
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