The Long Good Friday is a film about gangsters and their world- but its more than that, it is a film about the transition from one world of gangsters to another. Onstage we have the figure of Harold Shand, the boss of London and particularly its East End, offstage we have a group of gloomy nemesis from the mafia of America to the IRA. Actually offstage we have more than that- we have the Castro regime in Cuba and ultimately Osama Bin Laden. Harold Shand believes that he can control these elements, that his basic criminality- his capitalist criminality can control and confine matters and will allow him to take a piece of London and turn it into a new property estate with the mafia money, will allow him to turn legit. During these plans suddenly several of his leading henchmen are killed, his own pub blown up, he himself attacked and eventualy he and his girlfriend are kidnapped- the forces behind these events are shadowy but clearly identified- this is the territory of a new force, ideological gangsterism before which Harold's more mercenary forces have no defence, for as one of his men says once you kill them they spring up against. In a sense Harold's problem is now the problem of the whole world.
We begin in the world of London, Harold beleives that London is on the verge of the Thatcherite era- the film was made as Margerate Thatcher ascended to the Premiership. London was the European capital- London was the place where Americans like Harold's mafia might come to do business: Harold's hope is to transform the capital, to make it the capital of Europe. He wants peace- like any good gangster he knows that there is no money in gang war, the secret of the mafia in New York was their ability to control feuds, Harold's ability is the ability to partition and negotiate. In that sense what Harold is is a traditional businessman- he is both the opportunist who can recognise that Maggie's London stands on the verge of something- the bollinger boys of the banking world are about to arrive- and the man who can organise a team of people to deliver that. He can organise the truth even- organise things to be hidden. He is a team player- his partner Victoria, a friend of Princess Anne in her childhood, but is integral to Harold's operation. Harold knows his strengths and Victoria's, he knows that she can schmooze with the best of them, she oozes charm (as only Helen Mirren can!) whereas his skill is as a deal maker behind the scenes. It is as though the lady of the manor had gone into partnership with a second hand car salesman!
But what the film brings up is the limitations of the kind of association that Harold can bring- what he appeals to. He appeals to people's self interest- either their interest for profit or their interest to survive. But what he faces is not a group of people who care for their self interest or their survival- the IRA ultimately appeal to other kinds of senses within humanity and Harold finds it difficult to confront that kind of loyalty. Normally if you blow someone's leaders away with snipers, they relent and go into partnership with you, but in this case you blow their leaders away and in the film they continue fighting. They do not fight for a leader or the chance to succeed him- they fight for a cause. Harold can't offer anything against that because all his techniques appeal to people's self interest, they do not appeal to people who care more for their cause than for their lives or their bank balances. This is a film about the types of association that appeal to people- what associations can motivate people and what associations can succeed. What the film shows on the cusp of the era of capitalism is that capitalist motivations cannot neccessarily trump other motivations- in that sense it is a warning, a warning to the age of capitalist motivations.
Francis Fukuyama hypothesized a new type of man stood at the end of history, as its culmination. Some of the simple minded interpreters of Fukuyama suggest that the end of history looked a bit like Harold Shand in the mid nineties. But of course it doesn't and as subsequent events suggest didn't. The Long Good Friday does not go into a discussion of what other motivations or associations look like- all it suggests is that Harold Shand's inability to understand those motivations led to his downfall.