Before this movie was released, with the exception of Michael Caine`s Get Carter, British gangster movies were little known around the world and even at home, they were little appreciated. With Harold Shand, a brash, rough pint sized gangster on the make, Bob Hoskins changed that and paved the way for a whole raft of gritty crime thrillers set in the British Isles. Although few of the later movies rose to the heights claimed by Caine and Hoskins.
Harold Shand is a London gangster from the old school, he is the man that the real life Kray twins might like to have been, bursting with ruthlessness, animal cunning, aggression, hubris, charisma and ambition he sets out to transform himself into a businessman cum developer who will succeed because the qualities that make him a good gangster will allow him to defeat any legitimate business rival. He is assisted by his girl Victoria (Helen Mirren) - several grades above the classic Barbera Windsor style of gangster`s moll - who understands her man`s strengths and weaknesses and gives him the support and guidance that he needs succeed without threatening his perceived alpha male dominance.
Shand`s big idea is to get in on the development on London`s docklands and to cash in on an upcoming bid to host the Olympic games. He turns to an American crime syndicate for backing and the movie is set on an Easter weekend when he is playing host to mobster Charlie (Eddie Constantine) and Tony (Stephen Davies), Charlie`s lawyer.
Harold`s plans start to come unstuck as his organization quakes under attack from an unknown enemy who is planting bombs and assassinating Harold`s men. Victoria, assisted by Harold`s right hand man Jeff (Derek Thompson), attempts to keep the Americans on-board while Harold must find out who is behind the attacks and deal with them. He finally works out what is going on but can his gangster instincts deal with an entirely new threat?
Hoskins and Mirren are outstanding. They are an unlikely couple but they will have you convinced. Great acting from them both is helped by a script that gives them plenty to work with. Unfortunately, the two of them do a fine job of highlighting just how poor is the rest of the acting. Jeff has betrayed Harold but he hardly gives a hint as to what his motives might have been and all of the other characters seem to be determined to deliver their lines and collect their money and that`s it.
The uninspiring supporting actors do not detract though. The script and the editing deliver a tight package that it always moving along and holding your attention. The camera work is good too - you are there in Harold`s London and not just in a studio with a few street scene backdrops.
If you like this film then you will want to catch "Mona Lisa" in which Hoskins gets quite close to the Shand character. All of the subsequent Brit-gangster movies will entertain you but never reach the same level. For that, you should perhaps try "Trainspotting" but not if you found Hoskins` accent difficult!