The Long Good Friday Blu-ray Review
Powerful and uncompromising - a terrific story well told and is one that remains a classic of the genre
The Long Good Friday Film Review
As film titles go, “The Long Good Friday”, is a bit of a misnomer, but once you’ve seen it, the title is not only apt, it’s unforgettable.Shot on a shoestring budget and only the second production of George Harrison’s Handmade Pictures, The Long Good Friday burst into cinematic acclaim in 1980, a world still recovering from the economic turmoil of the seventies, a new Conservative leader and the start of a more prosperous, albeit self-centred, decade. It was gritty, hard and uncompromising, harking back to the British gangster films of old (Get Carter) where the dynamic was on a tight action orientated script encompassing a complex story narrative that once drawn in will soon have you hanging upside down in a meat locker. The 70’s were a decade of boundary pushing TV drama, plumbing emotional depths, showing stark reality and, even within the confines of TV parameters, as violent and horrific as anything the cinema was producing at the time.So it's not surprising to learn then that director John Mackenzie, writer Barrie Keeffe, cinematographer Phil Méheux, editor Mike Taylor and even the two main leads Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren all share common roots within TV drama. The budget precluded any big action set pieces, save one or two of the larger pub explosions, so the onus was on the actors to deliver larger than life performances – like a play. Everyone involved pulled out all the stops to produce a pinnacle of cinematic genius. A simple shot of Harold, framed by Tower Bridge discussing the legitimising of his empire by selling to the American mafia shows he has something distinctly British, but with enough clout to show up the world. The situation might have changed and time moved on, but The Long Good Friday remains as powerful and as enthralling today as it did over thirty years ago.
Blu-ray PictureThe disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24 transfer using the AVC codec and is Region locked to B.
Notes: “The original camera negative was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered Arriscan and was graded on the Baselight grading system. The film’s original Director of Photography Phil Méheux oversaw the colour grading for this project. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools. Image stability, density fluctuation and other picture issues were also improved.”
The Long Good Friday has always been a gritty looking film, in every incarnation. In prep for this release I dug out my 2009 Anchor Bay Blu-ray and had a quick scan; it was as I remembered, dark, grainy, well detailed but pushed towards the red with contrast and brightness giving rise to some crushed blacks a clear indications of clipping at the high end, as well as fluctuations in the brightness level – grubby, documentary feeling that suited the film to a tee. If I can highlight one scene that I will refer to in the new print as well: The establishing shot of the Lion and Griffin pub, just before its destruction. The Anchor Bay release shows a decent enough picture, the detail is there, though a bit lacking in the corrugated iron fence. The sky is a reasonable white, but blooms occasionally to remove detail in the overhanging trees that frame the scene, while the colour is quite strong. Grain is intact but looks ‘grubby’ with plenty of print damage throughout. If I were scoring it now, it’d be a 6.
A word about the aspect ratio. Proudly stated on the packaging of the Anchor Bay release is ‘presented in correct aspect at 1.66:1’ – that is actually not correct. Whilst it is true that Phil Méheux framed the film with TV in mind, it was, after all originally envisaged to be a TV film, the correct theatrical aspect was always 1.85:1; and that is what this Arrow print has received. This is from Phil Méheux himself who is interviewed on this release, and he also states various grading changes to the colouring of the film, particularly Harold’s “Hands across the ocean” scene (on the Thames while being framed by Tower Bridge), “The darkest day of the shoot and it continued to get darker as time when on.” This scene was always a problem and has been a thorn in Méheux’s side ever since. With the new re-mastering tools available the whole film has been re-graded, but this scene in particular has received the most work. Make up your own minds if this ‘digital meddling’ is justified considering that the film has been around ‘untouched’ for so long – but Méheux was clearly delighted to be able to go back and time the scene (and film) to what it should have been had the tools existed in 1980.
So, what does it actually look like? Answer - a revelation.
Detail is now so much more precise and defined, skin texture and clothing weaves are natural, the sinew on the beef carcasses has definition, brickwork has texture and skylines over London are clean and sharp. The panoramic sweep over the docklands zooming on to Harold’s boat early on in the film is magnificent; buildings are sharp and textured, the while of the boat against the white of Victoria’s white suit are now clean lined (previously there was clipping on both) revealing far more texture than ever before. Take a look at the corrugated fence in the scene mentioned above, now pristine and exact. The people crossing the road have cleaner edges, the road itself is now textured and the leaves on the trees now have structure.
Colouring has changed quite dramatically; previous releases have been dark and pushed towards the red, all that has changed. Primaries are still strong but the whole look is more natural. Earthy tones still dominate, though the red of Harold’s Merc or the blood on his shirt after the bottle attack is now far more vivid. However, where before there was a red push now there appears to be a green push; this does make things look more natural and it won’t appear obvious unless you compare (as I have) side by side images.
Brightness and contrast have been readdressed to give a more natural feel to the black; whereas before it was too black giving rise to crush, the more natural feel adds some significant punch, but loses out on a little depth of frame. Also there is now far more shadow detail available and all signs of clipping and bloom at the high end are gone revealing much more detail (see above). Comparing side by side this new image looks positively washed out compared to the dark grainy Anchor Bay picture, but this is just because that disc is so dark that it loses all hope of definition. Gone are the brightness fluctuations and it is more even – look at the scene on Harold’s boat when Victoria is talking to the French chef; it is mostly white with the pair conversing in showdown while the camera looks out to the sun-lit background. Previously the background has been washed out while the foreground suffered from being a little dark; now it is very even, the foreground remains bright and detailed while the background is brighter still, but maintains detail and does not clip.
Digitally there are no compression issues, nor edge enhancement. Banding, smearing and jaggies are also absent. Original print damage has all but been eradicated and the grain structure remains organically intact. The picture now looks and feels like film and not documentary TV footage. It is a remarkable improvement over existing releases and full marks to Arrow for their splendid work.
(Images are NOT representative of this Blu-ray)
Blu-ray SoundNotes: “The film’s original mono soundtrack was transferred from the original magnetic reels, and audio issues such as bumps, clicks and audible buzz were repaired, minimised, or removed.”
Just the one track to choose from: English LPCM 1.0 mono. Unlike the picture the sound has always been quite faithful and there is little if anything needed to compliment this uncompressed track. Dialogue is clear and precise, sounds natural enough and well layered into the mix. Effects are limited (a function of the budget more than anything) though gun shots and explosions have a reasonable weight behind them. Bass is reasonable, mainly there to emphasis the effects, though cars, trucks and boats do benefit as well. The real winner though is Francis Monkman’s magnificent score, seldom does a theme that can at once sound joyful and happy but contain undercurrents of violence and horror make such an impression and it rightly gets first place in the sound mix. There is no background hiss, nor any discernible damage, such as pops or cracks, neither is it tinny or shrill. Nothing is missed and everything is clean with the information getting across without frills and spills.
Blu-ray ExtrasDisc 1
Director’s Commentary – Already available on the Anchor Bay disc, here John Mackenzie goes it alone to discuss his film; it’s direct, forthright and full of information.
Bloody Business: The making of The Long Good Friday – Once again a direct port from the Anchor Bay disc (and indeed made by them) this all-encompassing documentary includes interviews with John Mackenzie, Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Pierce Brosnan, producer Barry Hanson and cinematographer Phil Méheux and is extremely comprehensive in its examination.
Interviews – Newly recorded interviews (around 10 mins) with Barry Hanson, Phil Méheux and writer Barrie Keeffe. Nice bit of information from each about the film (it is here that Méheux discusses the film restoration) but a bit short in truth (the reason for that is below).
Hands Across the Ocean – A comparison of the differences between the UK and US soundtracks.
Only available as part of the Six Disc Limited Edition
Apaches (1977) - John Mackenzie’s notorious farm safety film, presented in High Definition (1080p) is quite the curiosity, we’re introduced to a number of children playing in and around a farm and all of them reach a grisly end, be it being crushed, squashed or dropped. Necessarily graphic in a ‘shock the audience into realisation’ way it is made all the more real by being extremely well made (almost film like in narrative) and drawing you into the children’s world of play before killing them off.
Introduction to Apaches by cinematographer Phil Meheux – As the title says.
Q&A – A 30 minute conversation with Bob Hoskins and John Mackenzie, moderated by Richard Jobson, after a showing of the film, much of the stories are covered in other material but still very watchable.
Extended interviews – A continuation of the conversations included on the first disc, this time with far more in depth discussion; with Barry Hanson, Phil Méheux, Barrie Keeffe and now including assistant director Simon Hinkly and assistant art director Carlotta Barrow.
100 Page Hardback Book – Extremely comprehensive writings about both The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa.
The Long Good Friday Blu-ray VerdictAs film titles go, “The Long Good Friday”, is a bit of a misnomer. It gives no clue as to what the film is about, neither does it hint at the genre. The fact that it was thought up late in the day and purportedly chosen due to the Easter setting and resemblance to The Long Goodbye probably account for much of this. But one thing is for sure, once you’ve seen the film, the title is not only apt, it’s unforgettable.
Keeffe’s script is filled with interesting and well-rounded characters; everyone has a back story, of sorts, even if it’s a throwaway line, explaining away their actions and motivations. The leads of Harold (Hoskins) and Victoria (Mirren) are exceptionally well cast; neither is the stereotypical character you might think. It is perhaps Harold, more than any other, that has coloured Hoskins’ career forever more. He will always be remembered as the short thug (even when he’s pulling cartoon rabbit ears!) he still carries that gruff, tough, string-you-up-and-beat-you persona so perfected here. Mirren’s part was slightly smaller, but is no less complex. Apparently rewritten at her request, it was definitely for the better; no trophy wife here. It takes a strong woman to stand up to Harold, and perhaps she is the only person that ever could. Their partnership is not one of Bonnie and Clyde, more like Frankenstein and Dracula.
I have to mention Francis Monkman’s terrific score. Instantly recognisable as one of the top theme tunes from a film; it brings about images and an intensity drawn from the gut itself. Seldom does a theme that can at once sound joyful and happy but contain undercurrents of violence and horror, match a scene so perfectly as when Harold is driven away; the scene itself is some five minutes long, and required some terrific acting from Hoskins himself; supposedly rehearsing the entire script in his head his edginess and frantic gestures belie the energy wanting to burst out. And how that music captures his fear, his anger and his rage, his scheming and planning and his inevitable fate. If I had to pick one scene, not just from this film, but from any, that is so complete, so complex and so utterly absorbing that you cannot turn away, then this would be it. If The Long Good Friday was only five minutes long and was only this one scene, it would still be a titan in the gangster genre.
A titan of the gangster genre.
As a Blu-ray package, Arrow, have once again out done themselves. The re-mastering of the picture alone is worth the purchase price as it has revealed far more detail, is far better graded with fixed brightness and contrast that add punch and weight to the image; it now looks and feels like a film and not a documentary TV footage. The sound has had a bit of a clean-up and, though monaural, is clean bright and gets the information across well and without issue. The extras package is quite extensive, even if most of it has been seen before; though the 6-disc limited edition does pack a serious amount in.
Powerful and uncompromising, The Long Good Friday remains a terrific story well told, it's one that needs little introduction and will forever be imprinted as a classic of the genre.
You can buy The Long Good Friday on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £20.00
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