London, early '60s. Harry Starks is a dangerous mobster, a club owner who loves money, rent boys and Judy Garland. He's an East End gangster who, in grandiose Kray Twins style tradition, is not only prone to streaks of madness, depression and a violent temper but homosexuality. His penchant for Spanish Inquisition style justice has handed him the Fleet Street moniker of "Torture Gang Boss". He revels in a nether world of minor celebrities, fund raisers, boxing, showbiz, gambling clubs and philanthropy... for the sake of public image. Written by
One of those enigmas that the industry occasionally throws up is why is Mark Strong such a genuinely impressive actor on television yet so astonishingly bland whenever he appears in a movie? He's certainly at his very best in The Long Firm. The BBC series got lost in the tail-end of the avalanche of post-Guy Ritchie British Mockney gangster movies, but this four-part TV drama is in a class of its own. Each seen through a different character's eyes (Derek Jacobi's gay politician, Lena Headey's b-movie actress and Phil Daniels' drug dealer), the first three episodes are superb in their evocation of the late 50s and 60s and the milieu underachieving third-league homosexual ("I'm not gay, I'm a homosexual") Jewish East London gangster Harry Starks (Strong, living up to his name) and his delusions of respectability and love of Judy Garland and Dorothy Squires. The final episode is less successful, largely because it is filtered through Shaun Dingwall's shallow and too comically stereotyped sociology professor who learns his own mediocrity through Harry's intellectual outgrowing of him - the scenes with Strong are excellent, but when the focus is on Dingwall it's too much a soft satire of 70s. Yet even that lapse of judgement can't detract from the overall quality of the series this is the real deal and deserves to be far better known.
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