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
When Harry and Teddy go to Nigeria (in 1964), we see cars driving on the right-hand side of the road. Nigeria drove on the left until 1972. See more »
Lord Teddy Thursby:
Now look, Harry, you know I can't abide violence. I'm just no good at that sort of thing.
Good thing I'm an expert, then.
Lord Teddy Thursby:
I'm not hitting anyone, if that's what you're thinking.
I just want you to reassure him - talk to him, make him see the error of his ways. Then *I'll* hit him.
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I tuned in to 'The Long Firm'" with high hopes. A modern historical drama starring the excellent Mark Strong looked promising, bringing to mind memories of 'Our friends in the north' - one of the best TV dramas of the past 20 years. Having now seen the fourth and final episode, I have to say that, although it was entertaining and extremely well-made, I was more than a little disappointed.
I am loathe to criticise ambitious drama like this in the light of the soapy dreck that constitutes the vast majority of British televisual output. However, 'The Long Firm' promised more than it delivered. And its faults lay firmly with the writing.
Each episode used a different narrator to relay details of their associations with the main character, London gangster Harry Starks. The technique proved clumsy, with the voice-overs unsubtle and unenlightening. Why employ such a method if ultimately the insights are all the same? More friction needed to exist between what we saw and what we heard for it to work. Like too much modern drama, the approach didn't transcend its stylistic facility.
In the same vein, character development and the attendant psychological underpinnings (e.g. gangster as thwarted celebrity/entertainer) were clichéd and overly familiar. The final episode, in particular, was embarrassingly heavy-handed in its satire of the counter-culture and academia. In general there was too much pastiche and caricature to allow real interest. Any emotional impact generated by these people was purely down to the skill of the actors and the director. Also, I haven't read the source novel by Jake Arnott, but I am presuming that it made a more profitable and resonant use of the metaphorical title. Here, it was explained briefly in episode one and then thrown away.
Ultimately, each episode proved highly watchable but somehow unsatisfying, leaving this viewer to assume that we were building to some revelation/twist/new insight that never came, the screenwriter happy to fashion the piece into little more than a summation of period iconography/psychology.
There was much to enjoy, though. The piece was extremely well-cast, mixing a few expected-but-impressive veterans with a lot of talented but lesser-known faces. Mark Strong proved to be a commanding linchpin as Starks, bringing charisma and nuance to the role. Also notable were Lena Headey's Ruby Ryder, the excellent George Costigan, and Shaun Dingwall as Harry's biographer. The period detail and mise en scene were nicely understated and entirely convincing, and there were nice, ballsy touches like the interpolation of footage from the 'Parkinson' show. Additionally there were a few welcome surprises on the contemporaneous soundtrack, such as Janice Nicholls' novelty hit 'I'll give it five'. Or 'Oi'll give eet foive!'.
Perhaps I expected a little too much from this piece. I walked away reasonably entertained but with an air of opportunities unfulfilled.
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