Harold Shand is a man with a plan. Although many call him a gangster, he prefers to think of himself as “a businessman with a sense of history.” As such, he wants to buy up a vast, mostly disused section of the London docks and erect a superstadium to house the 1988 Olympics. A major challenge, that; but he has some key city officials in his pocket, and he’s coaxed the US Mafia to send over a representative to pass final approval on his scheme. As Good Friday dawns, everything’s moving smoothly. Then somebody starts blowing Harold’s friends and holdings off the map.
Harold’s enraged. He’s also perplexed. Among the local mobs, things have been pretty peaceful for a decade; besides, none of them is big enough to take Harold on. The Americans? No, they’re too practical: why wreck his “corporation” when it’s so much more logical to do business with a well-set-up organization? So who’s left? Or, as Harold himself rasps, “‘O’s ‘avin’ a go at me?”
The answer does not become clear for an hour-and-a-half ‘s worth of screen time. Without divulging it here, we can say that it provides a contemporary and revivifying twist on the generic gang-war formula, as ritualized over the sixty years between D.W Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley and F.F Coppola’s The Godfather. More importantly, within The Long Good Friday itself, the assault on Harold Shand’s empire proves to have nothing to do with the many theories and motives Harold considers. It’s a mistake. And that qualifies Harold Shand as the English-language cinema’s first absurdist gangster hero.