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"The Mafia? Hah! I've shit 'em."

I have rarely seen a movie character so completely alive. Shand is an evil, cruel, sadistic man. But he's a mass of contradictions, and there are times when we understand him so completely we almost feel affectionate. He's such a character, such an overcompensating Cockney, sensitive to the slightest affront, able to strike fear in the hearts of killers, but a pushover when his mistress raises her voice to him.
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British gangster film starring Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand, an old-school London Gangster planning to make the leap from organised crime to legitimate business with the financial aid of some American Legitimate Businessmen and some potentially lucrative property deals. Success is within his grasp when a mysterious group of hitmen start targeting Harold and his organisation, executing two of his closest accomplices and bombing several of his businesses.

His deal threatened, Harold starts to use all his muscle and contacts to try and find out who's attacking him — but when it starts to look as if betrayal could be coming from close to home and prior dodgy dealings might be coming back to bite him, it becomes clear that it's going to be a very long Easter weekend for Harold Shand.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Victoria develops one in Jeff.
  • Affably Evil: Harold Shand as it would appear at first (and in certain instances seems genuine), but when he realises the threat of the situation, this façade begins to fade - see Faux Affably Evil below.
  • Anti-Villain: Harold is introduced as an affable boss and loving husband who is trying to establish a legitimate business deal while under attack from a ruthless and mysterious aggressor. As the film progresses, however, it becomes clear that he is quite cruel and can qute compete in his villainy against the people who are after him. However his general aim is always to maintain order, also he is eager to build up his business and improve the future of Britain.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The last scene has Harold being driven off at gunpoint by the IRA to be killed.
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  • Brick Joke: First London is compared to a bad night in Belfast in the end it is already likened to a bad night in Vietnam.
  • The Brute: Razors, Harold's gangland enforcer.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Despite being told that even the British Army haven't managed to beat the IRA, Harold is ready to go to war with them. He also tells a New York mafia boss to go fuck himself at the end of the film.
  • The Caligula: Harold begins as a competent mob boss with grand ambitions, who nonetheless seems sane and grounded. After a series of mysterious and violent incidents chip away at his criminal empire, he gradually falls apart; by the end of the film he has slit the throat of his most trusted lieutenant, alienated his most valuable business partners, and had his fellow gang bosses strung up on meat hooks. It all ends badly.
  • Cool Car: Harold's gold Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow with whitewall tyres, registration: HS 10. After it gets blown up, he rides around in a swish dark blue Jaguar XJ6. Jeff also has a classic red early-1970s Mercedes 280SL.
  • Corrupt Politician: Councillor Harris.
  • Creator Cameo: The IRA driver whose menacing eyes are seen in the rear-view mirror at the end of the film was played by the director, John Mackenzie.
  • Dark Mistress: Victoria (Helen Mirren) is an unusually posh, well-bred version of this, who played Lacrosse at school with Princess Anne. She acts as something of an adviser to him.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Jeff appears to be the one. It is invoked in his dialogue with Harold that he is gay however he also hits at Victoria in the lift.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: Averted. After double-crossing and attempting to destroy the IRA gangster operation in London, Shand is kidnapped by gunmen in the final scene of the film. Neither he nor his captors speak, but one gunman smirks at him. It's pretty clear from the smirks what they're thinking.
  • Dirty Cop: Parky, a senior Met police officer on Harold's payroll (probably a Detective Inspector or Detective Chief Inspector)
  • Dramatic Irony:
    Harold: It's like fucking Belfast on a bad night!
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Harold's mother is almost killed via car bomb. Naturally, he's furious.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: It's clear that Harold does love Victoria and is beside himself when he pushes her. He's also quite upset when Colin is killed.
  • Evil vs. Evil: It's London Gangsters vs the Irish Republican Army. Needless to say, there are no heroes in this battle.
  • Facial Dialogue: The final scene consists of Harold sitting silently in the back of a car and slowly realizing that he is completely fucked.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride. Once everyone else figures out who the Irish gang actually are, they urge Harold to let them have their pound of flesh to settle the grievance and have done with it. But Harold Shand can't comprehend anyone other than him calling the shots in London. This will come back to bite him.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Harold would like to present himself as Affably Evil, but it quickly becomes clear he's got quite a sadistic streak and a bad temper that only gets more pronounced as the movie goes on.
  • Gayngster: Harold's murdered friend Colin turns out to be one of these. Harold actually seems totally okay with it.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Harold makes particularly graphic use of a bottle against Jeff when his bad day finally explodes into a brief, furious frenzy; first he smashes the bottle over his victim's head, then he brutally stabs him in the neck with the jagged end. The sight of blood spraying out of his friend's throat soon calms him down.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper/Hot-Blooded: Harold will go off at the drop of a hat. And it only gets worse as things get more stressful.
  • Homage: The final scene of Harold being taken to his implied death is a homage to the ending of Performance.
  • The Irish Mob: Subverted. Harold thinks that's who he's dealing with, but in reality it's the IRA. The kicker is once everyone realizes who they are and try to warn him, he continues to treat them as he would the average mobster.
  • Just a Gangster: Subverted. Shand strives to become a respectable and legitimate businessman through land speculation aided by some American mob contacts. This goal is undermined when his project starts being attacked and his men killed. Harold thinks he's experiencing a case of this- suspecting treason from his men and believing The Irish Mob is attempting to muscle in. However, he's actually being targeted by the IRA during The Troubles.
  • Large Ham: Bob Hoskins is excellent but it's not exactly an understated performance (for the most part). Even Harold himself is something of a large ham when he's giving an overblown speech to the guests on his yacht, with the Tower Bridge behind him.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Used effectively in the ending as Shand is "taken for a ride". We see him sitting in the back of the car as he visibly reflects on all the decisions he has made that led him to that position. Hoskins was quite against the scene, but apologized to the director when he saw the final product.
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: It's pretty clear that the American businessmen Harold is working with are really The Mafia.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Harold Shand is a Visionary Villain who wants to change the face of London and is keen on building the new future for Britain. He collides with the IRA who do not have any positive agenda in London (though they might have one in Belfast but here they are mere terrorists).
  • London Gangster: Harold fancies himself the top dog of all gangsters in London.
  • The Mafia: Harold is trying to come to an agreement with them.
  • The Napoleon: Harold, obviously.
  • Not My Driver: Thought you got away with it, didn't you Harold? Your 'chauffeurs' beg to differ.
  • Oh, Crap!: In a nice bit of Foreshadowing, Jeff has this reaction when the landlord of Harold's pub mentions a pair of Irishman arriving.
  • The Oner: The final shot holds on Harold Shand as he's driven away, replaying the events of the last few days in his head. We see him run the gamut of emotions as everything becomes clear to him.
  • Outside-Genre Foe: Harold assumes that he's under attack from a rival gang, and is baffled by the fact that it's the IRA. His advisers warn him that his opponents belong to a completely different world than him, and not to treat them like another group of thugs.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Colin is found dead in a swimming pool. When the owner suggests closing the establishment, Harold insists on keeping it open ("Let 'em enjoy their holiday").
    • A less wholesome variation of, the "dog" being a gang of delinquent street kids who have "minded" Harold's Jaguar (instead of vandalising it). Knowingly, he indulges the pre-adolescent boys with some cash to go and warns not to get drunk, then comments to his henchman that this was how he started.
    • Also he grants to the wife of a killed driver a pension of 100 quids a month.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Harold clearly doesn't approve of all the black people that now inhabit one of his old neighbourhoods.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Mafia, of all people, preach caution and cool-headedness. They're not trying to draw attention to themselves. Taken to its logical conclusion in the finale, combined with a little Know When to Fold 'Em, The Mafia decide to cut their losses and split even after all of Harold's enemies have been killed. When Harold points out it was a "little problem", they retort that massacres and explosions are nothing of the sort. They believe he's far too much of a liability. And they're right.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the end both the Americans and Harold exchange the one. First the man from beyond the ocean berates the United Kingdom. Then follows Harold's closing speech ("The mafia? I've shit 'em!") after they tell him the deal's off due to all the bombs going off and whatnot which he extends to Americans in general. ("No wonder you've got an energy crisis your side of the water!")
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: Shand tries to make a property deal with the American mafia, but suddenly all his men start getting bombed. Shand eventually realizes that he's somehow incurred the wrath of the IRA. Everyone tells him that the IRA is too psychotic to fight, but he tries to out-muscle them. It doesn't go well for him. Interestingly, the Mafiosi are portrayed as simple businessmen who don't want any bloodshed getting in the way of a deal.
  • Same Language Dub: Averted. Bob Hoskins voice was dubbed over by a Wolverhampton actor, for fear Americans wouldn't understand his London accent. After Hoskins threatened to sue Jack Gill and British Lion (the original producers before Hand Made Films bought the rights) the dubbing was removed. He was supported by Richard Burton, Alec Guinness and Warren Beatty.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: There's a few floating about, though only the barrels are cut down, not the stock.
  • Shower of Angst: Harold appears in a shower scene washing the blood off himself after he inadvertently kills Jeff in a fit of rage during a heated argument.
  • Unwilling Suspension: One of the more famous "hanging upside down from the ceiling scenes". The actors had to keep being supported between takes to prevent them passing out.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Harold seems to be going through an extended slow-burning one from about a third of the way in. It culminates in him slitting his right-hand man's throat and having his gangland rivals hooked upside down on meathooks.
  • Visionary Villain: Harold Shand who is planning to contribute to the future prosperity of Britain.
  • Western Terrorists: Harold tries to stiff the IRA. This ends about as well as you'd expect.
  • What Have I Become?: Harold says something to this effect after lashing out at Victoria during one of his tantrums.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Harold slaps a distraught widow when she starts getting in his face. He also pushes Victoria at one point, though he immediately regrets it.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Despite being warned this is not the case, Harold believes he can simply take out the IRA like they were one of his other rivals in London. They catch up to him in the very final scene when he believes he's wiped out all his enemies.
  • You Have Failed Me: Harold glasses Jeff in a fit of rage, after he finds out he used Harold's resources.

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