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The Long Firm

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Jake Arnott's novel re-imagines the London underworld in the 1960s, telling the story of Harry Starks, a homosexual Jewish East End gangster, via five people he came into contact with. This adaptation cuts that down to four people – the BBC only wanted that many episodes, apparently – but retains the basic structure of the story. Some real (and safely dead) people are included, and others are 'inspired' by those still alive and thus able to sue for libel. The back cover includes a statement that the corrupt police detective inspector is not linked to a real officer with a similar name…

The basic foundation of any good film is the script, and this has that. One of the memorable things from the commentary is star Mark Strong saying that it was something everyone wanted to be in, because the scripts were so strong. Unusually, reading the book first does not spoil watching the adaptation – normally, I am left thinking 'this isn't as good as the book…' Some scenes have been moved about, such as the red-hot poker trick, but even if you know how it ends, the ride is still so enjoyable. It helps that Strong in particular is excellent, and the visual look shows how much the makers cared about what they were doing.

Episode one features a homosexual Tory peer, played by Derek Jacobi. He is seduced, in more ways than one, into working for Starks. Despite the ups and downs of their relationship (he learns you do not get something for nothing when dealing with Starks) they end as friends. One of the aspects of Stark's character that makes him such a fascinating anti-hero is shown by both his willingness to use violence, but also to just use threats. Another character is seen to move straight to the violence, shocking both Stark and Jacobi's character.

Episode two sees a fading movie starlet become involved when her partner is sent to prison. Starks asks her for help with trying to make one of his boyfriends an actor and with running his nightclub. Again, she ends up still liking him, despite assisting in a killing of a lover. (For those of us living close by it and who enjoy playing 'spot the Rivoli Ballroom', the opening scenes were shot there.)

Episode three has Phil Daniels as a 'Jack the Hat' alike, who helps investigate the killing of a young male sex worker (the narrator missing from the book) while veering between trying to avoid becoming a murder victim himself and not caring if he lives or dies.

The final episode starts with Starks in prison and being the star prize for a visiting sociologist looking for something to write about. (There's a curious mismatch between the sentence announced by the judge and the one shown in newspaper headlines etc – was there an appeal or is this just a mistake that should have been picked up?) This is the funniest of the four, with my favourite being Starks introducing the sociologist with '.. this is my biographer' before the climatic confrontation. As with all the other 'civilians', he discovers you once you're involved, you can't avoid getting into deeper waters.

TL;DR Wonderful adaptation, reflecting the complexities of the novel. Well-acted, well-scripted, well-directed.

Film: 5/5
DVD: 4/5

Two discs, with two episodes on each. Informative and interesting commentary on the first and last episodes from Mark Strong, producer Liza Marshall, and screenwriter Joe Penhall. It's 'some music edits have been made' time though (the BBC can use music for broadcast programmes under a general licence that they cannot use – for a reasonable price – when issuing programmes on DVD). I didn't notice any difference and the original score is very good.

DVD and book links:

Written by Ian

May 10th, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Posted in DVDs,TV

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