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The Long Firm [DVD] 
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Four-part BBC2 drama based on the cult novel by Jake Arnott set in the dark underbelly of 1960s London. Mark Strong plays Harry Starks, a charismatic nightclub owner, racketeer and porn king, whose sensitive temperament and love of Judy Garland belie the violent savagery that makes him the most feared and respected crime boss in Soho. His story is told from the point of view of four characters on whom Starks leaves his indelible mark: the poverty-stricken aristocrat Lord Teddy Thursby (Derek Jacobi) who cannot hide his predilection for young boys; Ruby Ryder (Lena Headey), a film actress past her prime; radical criminologist and lecturer Lenny (Shaun Dingwall); and Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a lowlife petty criminal who gets increasingly drawn into Starks' dark world.
During the swinging sixties in London, there was only one crime boss in Soho that mattered: the indomitable Harry Starks. With a reputation for savagery and generosity in equal measure, Starks ruled central London with a coercive fist and his favourite implement of torture: the red-hot poker. Based on Jake Arnott's best-selling novel, which combines fact with fiction, this is a retrospective tale of criminality in the 1960s through to the 1980s; told from the view of four characters as they encounter the menacing Starks. From the penniless Lord with a predilection for young boys to a fading film actress desperate to make ends meet, from an out-of-touch minor crook to a disillusioned criminologist - Starks leaves his indelible mark on them all. But Starks is no regular gangster - he's an intelligent, complex Judy Garland-loving man who yearns for something more than the rough and tumble of criminal life.
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Told over four episodes, each one concentrates on a different character that is drawn into Starks inner circle. There's Teddy Thursby, a Tory M.P and a closet homosexual trapped in a sham marriage who is seduced by the easy access Starks social circles give him to pliant young men. (Starks too is homosexual) He in turn offers Starks the chance to mix in more elevated company and polish the rough edges of his working class exterior. It soon becomes clear who is most be-holden to who in this unlikely alliance and Thursbys dawning realisation that the man he is so implicated with is in fact capable of extreme savagery is fascinating. He is also beautifully portrayed by Derek Jacobi and you can almost smell the sweaty clammy terror emanating from him as Starks tempestuous personality unfolds like a spider's maw.
The second is centred on Jack the Hat played with nervy skittish glee by Phil Daniels, a small time crook and Drug dealer and casual acquaintance of Starks who through an escalating series of events ends up paying a very high price for the company he has chosen to keep and the type of life he has chosen. In the book this character meets his demise at the hands of the Krays but that element is exempted from this adaptation robbing it to some extent of the powerful impact it had in the book.
The third story revolving around good time girl turned "Choreographer" Ruby Ryder is the weakest of the three but is still compelling thanks to Bob Costigans salacious turn as bent copper George Mooney who's scheming and double crossing ends up putting Starks in prison.
Which introduces us to Lenny; a criminologist who takes a class in prison which Starks attends and becomes fascinated by his desire to learn and educate himself but quickly is intimidated by his ruthless reptilian logic. When Starks escapes his "Friendship" with the criminal leads him to an act that he could never have envisaged and the realisation that there is nothing as weak as a man who is willing to be led.
This is a riveting drama and at times a seriously powerful one. The temptation to lighten Starks character up thus making him more appealing must have been a seductive one in terms of the attempts to win ratings but thankfully the producers resisted doing a "Buster" on Harry Starks. But Mark Strongs performance radiates the sort of black velvet charisma a person like Starks would need to have to thrive and it,s his presence that lends The Long Firm the emphatic stamp of authority it needs to be as magnetically convincing as it is.
Awards should follow, especially for Mark Strong.....and if they don't, well then someone should get the poker and brazier out.
The times are evocatively recreated, the cast doing full justice to challenging roles. Standouts are Mark Strong, superb as gay, stylish, dangerous Harry, Derek Jacobi as the disreputable lord totally out of his depth. Lena Headey appeals as Ruby, trying to update Harry's ailing club whilst grooming for stardom young (untalented) Tommy, his latest protege. Thoroughly enjoying himself is Phil Daniels as drug-riddled Jimmy living dangerously on the edge. Shaun Dingwall impresses as well-meaning prison lecturer Lenny, forever speaking in polysyllabic impenetrables. Very much making his presence felt is George Costigan, chilling as a thoroughly bent cop, he and Harry clearly on collision course.
Atmospheric, brooding, sometimes downright unpleasant, the series owes much to its powerful central performance. This, so often menacing, can also both move and occasionally be funny. (The final episode is full of ironic humour - not least when Harry tells Lenny shooting a gun is like firing a waterpistol, only with a different outcome). Especially touching throughout is how Harry does not realize he is a relic of the past, failing for example to recognize the stars he idolizes are now all well past their prime. (The portrayal of Garland in freefall particularly disturbs.)
Two commentaries. No other extras. In many ways this series truly delivers, deserving more recognition than it perhaps now receives.
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