The Firm (1989 film)

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The Firm
Directed by Alan Clarke
Produced by David M. Thompson
Written by Al Hunter Ashton (as Al Hunter)
CinematographyBen Philpott
Richard Philpott
John Ward
Edited byJohn Strickland
Distributed by BBC
Release date
  • 26 February 1989 (1989-02-26)
Running time
70 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Firm is a 1989 British made-for-television drama film directed by Alan Clarke and written by Al Hunter Ashton for the BBC. It stars Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, Charles Lawson and Steve McFadden in his acting debut. The film is based on the activities of the Inter City Firm (billed as the "Inter City Crew") football firm of West Ham United during the 1970s and 1980s.


The film, which courted controversy on release, has come to be regarded among the finest films on the subject of football hooliganism. It is notable for having almost no musical score or diegetic music, save for Dean Martin's rendition of "That's Amore" over the opening titles. Oldman's performance has been hailed as one of the greatest of his career. [2]


Clive Bissel (nicknamed "Bex", or "Bexy") is a married man with a baby son. He is the leader of a hooligan firm known as the ICC (Inter City Crew). His wife no longer approves of his activities as a football hooligan, which contrast to his respectable job as an estate agent. Even when his baby son injures himself with a craft knife Bexy has carelessly left lying around, he is unwilling to give up violence as he admits it gives him a "buzz". Conversely, Bexy's father shows acceptance of his son's lifestyle, happily taking a group photograph of the 'tooled up' gang and boasting of similar activities in his own era. However, he feels that Bex and his friends have gone soft because they now use weapons and worry too much about strategy, instead of just getting on with fighting rival mobs.

The film begins with a rival gang called "The Buccaneers" vandalising Bexy's Ford Sierra XR4x4 and spraying graffiti in a football dressing room while Bexy and his mates are playing football. Bexy's arch nemesis and leader of the Bucaneers, Yeti, then drives a white Volkswagen Golf GTi cabriolet across the football pitch.

With an imminent international football tournament in Holland, Bexy wants to form a 'National Firm' - comprising several rival gangs - big enough to take on the well organised and large international hooligan groups. Bexy meets leaders from other firms in the Tower Hotel in London, including the Buccaneers. The other gangs like the idea but do not like the idea of Bexy being top boy. The rival firms then agree to fight each other in order to determine who will lead the new, amalgamated firm into Europe.

Bex and his fellow hooligans only possess any kind of social status amongst their own groups, and Bex relishes being looked up to and admired by the younger men in his own firm. Bexy used his natural leadership qualities to cajole and encourage his peers, and uses intimidation to cement his position as leader of the ICC. These young men think of themselves as important, respected figures in their local community, but Bexy's wife tells him that the truth is somewhat different. Everyone thinks of him as a joke, she says, but because they fear his violent nature, few are willing to point out to him that he is not the working class hero he thinks he is.

The ICC survive violent clashes with the other gangs but must still defeat the Buccaneers. Bexy is relishing the chance to defeat Yeti. Bexy beats up Yeti during the ICC's clash with the Buccaneers in a pub but is then shot dead by an injured Yeti. Just before being shot, Bexy expresses astonishment and disbelief that Yeti has a gun, and says 'Oh, come on!' before Yeti pulls the trigger.

The closing scene depicts the surviving ICC members in a pub, honouring Bexy as a hero. They claim when they are fighting European firms at the forthcoming tournament, they will be doing so in memory of their dead leader. The hooligans from three different firms, who were fighting each other not long ago, agree that Bex was a visionary who brought them together, giving him legendary status, and that his death will not make them change their behaviour, as they vow to continue.


Reception and legacy

The Firm proved controversial, [3] [4] and has been both celebrated and condemned for its violent content. [5] Tom Dawson in The List reported that it "is widely considered to be the toughest and most insightful screen depiction of football hooligans". [6] Vice critic Harry Sword wrote that "The Firm remains the definitive celluloid document on football hooliganism: a panoramic masterpiece that captured a world of vicious violence and material aspiration". [7] Philip French in The Observer described the film as "by some way the best movie on the subject of football hooliganism and a key text on the subject of Thatcher's Britain." [8]

Film4 hailed The Firm as a "brilliant and compelling drama" that features Oldman "at his visceral, intense best". [9] Josh Winning of Total Film observed its "unflinching depictions of violence" along with Clarke's "layered, fearless approach", and named Oldman's "stunning" performance as the best of his career. [5] Matthew Thrift of the British Film Institute in 2018 wrote that Bissell "remains probably Gary Oldman's greatest screen performance". [10]

The Firm has been described as a cult classic. [3] [11]

Home media releases

The film was first released on VHS on 21 Oct 1996 in a double pack with the similarly themed ID, with a standalone release following a few years later. A DVD was first released by Prism Leisure on 2 Feb 2004. The film has been sold as part of numerous box-sets, often packed in with other films of a similar nature or from director Alan Clarke. On 10 Sep 2007 a special edition DVD (released in collectible SteelBook packaging) was finally released by BBC. Extra features on the special edition include:

A version of the film with censored scenes restored from tape (including a more graphic version of Bex's blinding of Oboe, a scene of Bex mock-raping his wife, and Bex performing a knife attack on Yeti's private parts) was included in the 2016 DVD set Alan Clarke at the BBC, Volume 2: Disruption, and also released as a stand-alone DVD, both under the BFI's auspices.


The story was adapted by Nick Love into the 2009 film of the same name.

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  1. "Screen Two: The Firm: TV Transmission". Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 23 January 2009. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  2. See Reception and legacy.
  3. 1 2 Dalton, Stephen (16 November 2017). "Critic's Picks: Gary Oldman's 10 Best Performances". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  4. Ralske, Josh. The Firm. AllMovie. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  5. 1 2 Winning, Josh. Best Movies: The film chameleon's greatest moments. Total Film . 11 April 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  6. Dawson, Tom. The Firm review. The List . 25 September 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  7. Sword, Harry (3 August 2015). "Remembering Alan Clarke". Vice . Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  8. French, Philip. The Firm. The Observer . 20 September 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  9. The Firm. Film4. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  10. Thrift, Matthew (3 April 2018). "Gary Oldman: 10 essential films". British Film Institute . Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  11. Newbould, C. (23 June 2014). "Five of the best football films". The National . Retrieved 9 August 2014.