The first in a series that explores London’s role in cinema, and how its streets and skyscrapers have set the scene for so many iconic movies, we begin with The Long Good Friday (1980) which is widely regarded as the greatest British gangster film of all time.
London has changed considerably since the late ‘70s. Its role as a global city has been taken rather seriously, as evident by the many new skyscrapers that now line its horizon that’s seemingly getting more crowded month by month. Areas we know today as key parts of England’s capital were virtually non-existent five decades ago, though. Canary Wharf, the endless towers of Bishopsgate, the DLR; none of them were conceived yet; London was a lot more sparse and run down in parts. It had yet to see the financial boom of the ‘80s and the cheaper air travel that came with it, which would help propel London towards its status of Europe’s most important and exciting city.
This is all evident in The Long Good Friday, the 1980 film that’s widely considered one of the best British gangster films of all time. Bob Hoskins stars as Harold, a top London gangster, and Helen Mirren plays his wife Victoria. Harold’s very much aware of the potential of the city, exclaiming in a powerful speech that ‘this is the decade in which London will become Europe’s capital’. A state-of-the-nation thriller, the film tackles socio-political issues that were prevalent in the ‘70s and ‘80s including the rise of the IRA, police corruption and gentrification. It does this with a gritty and remarkably undeveloped London as a backdrop. And what a setting it is.
We see plenty of recognisable London sights early on in the film. Tower Bridge is given plenty of screen time, as Harold’s boat floats in front of it during his aforementioned speech. One of the city’s most easily recognisable landmarks, Tower Bridge frames Harold as he discusses his plans to form a deal with the American mafia, developing parts of the city in the process. It’s a powerful scene that puts forth Harold’s intent, showcasing him as a leading ‘businessman’ among the influential people he’s speaking to, and Tower Bridge acts as a symbol – this is his city.
But Harold’s London extends to all of its far reaches. His ‘Mayfair casino’ is his central London base, although its real-life location is actually 15 Catherine Place in Westminster, and he puts his ‘American friends’ up in the Savoy on the Strand. His apartment is on Noble Street, opposite the Barbican and his pub, the Lion and Unicorn is on Wapping High Street, although both areas have since been heavily redeveloped. Which is something Harold would surely approve of. A hard-nosed, quick-witted gangster, by the time we enter his life in the film he’s attempting to become legitimate, something he hopes to achieve through redeveloping London Docklands.
He was clearly ahead of his time. The Docklands underwent huge regeneration in the ‘80s and ‘90s, with Canary Wharf perhaps the most famous evidence. But in The Long Good Friday, the Docklands are mostly portrayed as what they were: derelict. Harold conducts shady meetings with corrupt policeman Parky on land where London City Airport now stands, and he moors his boat near St Katharine Docks, an area still being developed well into the ‘90s.
We don’t know if Harold made it to the following decade – the film’s ending is deliberately enigmatic. But his plan, in real life at least, came off. London quite quickly became the epicentre of Europe. Though crime and corruption stayed in one form or another, the city moved on thanks to large developments such as the Docklands and the rise of the capital’s financial hub. Harold had big plans, but London’s were grander and more elaborate, the city multiplied quicker than even he could have pictured.
This is why The Long Good Friday is so interesting. It showed what London was like in simpler times, before gentrification and ‘profitable progress’ dominated. Today, the film is as much a piece of London’s history as it is a gangster film.
Did you know that every frame in our Optical collection is named after a location near our HQ in Blackfriars, London? It’s true. After all, we are a London brand through and through. Take for example the 50s-esque Creed frame, which is named after the lane that runs perpendicular to Ludgate Hill and Carter Lane – which also have two frames named after them. In total, there are seven models to choose from and you can explore the full collection here. If you have any questions about prescription lenses, there’s information on the product page. Alternatively, you can get in touch with us by emailing email@example.com.
Kirk Originals is a London brand and will always pay homage to the great capital in subtle ways. You can explore the full collection, here.
– By Charlie Thomas