Reviews | Written by Andrew Pollard 08/06/2016

THE FIRM (1989)

Chances are, if you’re a football fan you’ll have seen Alan Clarke’s The Firm a long, long time ago. Even if you’re not a fan of sweaty men running around a pitch kicking a chunk of leather, there’s a good chance you’ll have checked out The Firm regardless. Clarke’s 1989 made-for-TV affair (which was actually made in 1988 but delayed due to cold feet from the BBC) is a fascinating observation of the ever-popular “football hooligan”; a term that was first coined back in the 1960s but was firmly put under the microscope and into public imagination in the 1980s.

Many have called football hooliganism “the English disease” or even put it down to the British being an island race who have a long-cemented mentality of wanting to fight. Any fight. At any time. Against anyone. This is fantastically explored in Clarke’s The Firm, in which Gary Oldman takes centre-stage as Bexy, a husband and father who works as an estate agent but who loves nothing more than a good ol’ tear-up of a weekend. As the “top boy” of his respective firm, the Inter City Crew, he leads his troops into battle against their rival firms whilst also trying to bring said rivals together to form an English firm to travel into Europe and battle those nasty foreigners. The question is, just how far are Bexy and his boys willing to go and at what cost to themselves and those around them?

What The Firm does so well is, not only does it explore the notion of hooliganism itself, it also serves as an insight into Thatcher’s Britain and all that it encompassed. At that time, hope was at a minimum, and so certain people would seek to get some sort of a pep in their step by smashing the face in of a rival football fan. Simple? Yes. Savage? Yes. Bleak? Yes. But that’s the point of The Firm; it highlights the tribalism and belonging that was craved by so many with little to hold onto or look forward to. Even when things take a turn for the worst – as ever with these things – those involved still somehow manage to flip that into yet another cause to go out cracking skulls over. The ’80s was a depressing time for many, and Clarke used that bleakness to perfection here as these everyday sorts crave some form of buzz, with Gary Oldman delivering one of his most impressive performances ever (which is quite the statement in itself).

The Firm may be outdone by the likes of The Football Factory and Green Street when it comes to the brutal violence that’s draped over such tales – truth be told, the actual fight scenes in The Firm look terribly outdated and poorly choreographed – but Clarke’s film is so much more than any of its contemporaries even though it was released over 25 years ago. To this day, The Firm remains the finest exploration and examination of football hooliganism, yet still manages to be far more than simply the sum of its parts.

With this new BFI release, there’s a spruced-up HD version of the film and a director’s cut, not to mention some brilliant special features that tie-in perfectly with the spate of BFI re-releases of Clarke’s work that are currently coming out. An all-time classic brought back to life for a new audience, this is a must when it comes to football hooliganism or those looking for an insight into the mentality of those trapped by the clutches of Thatcherism in the 1980s.

Special Features: Director’s cut / Three audio commentaries / Alan Clarke’s Elephant / Alan Clarke interview / Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light documentary