A violent British gangster crime thriller set over the course of a Good Friday weekend, directed by John Mackenzie from a screenplay by Barrie Keeffe.
Bob Hoskins stars as the brutal East End gangland boss Harold Shand; the film follows Shand’s attempts to go respectable by interesting a band of American Mafia in a real estate deal in the moribund London Docklands.
After returning to London from a trip to America, Harold discovers that a rival gang seems to be destroying his empire and that two of his henchmen have been murdered.
Harold attempts to trace the identity of his men’s killers but finds no reasoning behind the attacks on his organisation.
The pressure on Harold is increased when his American visitors are subjected to a bomb attack and Charlie (Eddie Constantine) informs Harold’s girlfriend, Victoria (Helen Mirren), that he has 24 hours to find the culprits or the American’s will pull out of the deal.
Harold learns that while he was abroad his right-hand man Jeff (Derek Thompson), was involved in delivering money to the IRA in Belfast and that some of the money was stolen.
The IRA now seems to be retaliating against Harold’s men for the death of their members and theft of the money.
Harold decides to seek revenge on the IRA by pretending to deliver more money, but during the drop-off, Harold kills the terrorist commander and several of his men.
Later, Harold and Victoria are then kidnapped at gunpoint by the IRA, and driven away to meet their fate.
“There’s gonna be an eruption!” roars Shand like a mobster Macbeth, with his empire collapsing around him. And there was, although it was short-lived for director MacKenzie who descended into TV hell.
Having been made in 1979 for £900,000 with backing from Black Lion (a subsidiary of Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment behemoth), the film hit festivals in 1980 but was delayed when Grade and others baulked.
There were concerns that the IRA might blow up cinemas that screened it, and another version was prepared with the Irish references and violence heavily excised with a view to selling it to television instead of giving it a cinematic release.
Additionally, Bob Hoskins’s voice was dubbed in a Wolverhampton accent for fears Americans wouldn’t understand him. Hoskins decided to sue and had support from actors including Alec Guinness, Richard Burton and Warren Beatty prepared to stand as expert witnesses in court.
Fortunately, George Harrison’s Handmade Films stepped in and paid £700,000 to give the film cinematic distribution in November 1980.
Look out for Pierce Brosnan in his first credited screen performance (as “1st Irishman”).