Tuesday, 6 May 2014


I remember watching The Long Good Friday for the first time very well.  For one thing, it was the first time my husband and I sat down to watch a film together in the early days of our relationship.  The other thing that makes it stand out in my memory is the fiery portrayal of the film's main character, the gangster Harold Shand, by one of Britain's best-loved actors, Bob Hoskins, who sadly died of pneumonia last week aged 71.  In the film, which dates from the early days of Thatcherism, Shand (whose girlfriend is played by a youthful Helen Mirren) has a plan to develop the London Docklands into a future Olympics venue (long before this became a reality) with the backing of American Mafia money, but his plans rapidly descend into chaos over an Easter weekend with a series of murders and explosions which, it later transpires, are the work of the IRA: one of Shand's associates got on the wrong side of them in a previous event resulting in several IRA deaths.

As for the film's locations, it is fascinating when watching the film now to see certain parts of London which have since changed beyond recognition.  When Shand tours the site of his proposed development in the Canary Wharf area, we see the location of what was to become One Canada Square, a skyscraper completed in 1991.  The building, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, was the tallest building in the UK from 1990 to 2010, and is primarily used for retail and offices.  Another scene in the film was shot at the Harringay Stadium, best known for greyhound racing and motorcycle speedway.  The stadium closed in 1987 and - a sign of our retail-obsessed times - has been turned into a superstore.  At one point in the film Shand has a meeting at the King George V Dock in the Royal Docks.  This has also completely changed use, and is now the site of London City Airport.  

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Canary Wharf. Photo by Mike Quinn, via Wikimedia Commons

No film shot in London would be complete without a sprinkling of pubs, real or purpose-built.  The Governor General pub depicted in the film was the actual name of this pub in Downham, south-east London, at the time of filming, but the pub is now gone, replaced by a Q8 petrol station.  The pub in the film which is supposedly Fagan's in Belfast, is actually the Salisbury pub in Green Lanes, Harringay.  As for the Lion and Unicorn pub, this is a complete fabrication made for the film in Wapping - just as well because it is the scene of one of the explosions.  The film-makers must have made a good  job of it, because allegedly people kept knocking on the door during filming to find out when the pub was going to open.  Another explosion occurs when Shand's Rolls Royce is blown up in a churchyard, killing the chauffeur.  This scene was filmed at St George in theEast, a striking church built in the early 18th century and located in Stepney, just to the north of St Katharine Docks.  This Anglican Church was the scene of an earlier real-life explosion when it was bombed during the Blitz, but it was rebuilt and is still a functioning church.  The interior church scenes were filmed in St Patrick's Church, a Roman Catholic church in Wapping.  One of London's most famous hotels, The Savoy, also puts in an appearance towards the end, when Shand has a meeting with his mafia buddies.

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St George in the East. Photo by Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons

So, if you want to have a nostalgic look at the London of the end of the 70s/early 80s, why not pay your respects to the late Bob Hoskins by watching, or rewatching, what many consider to have been his best cinematic performance.

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