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)
Starring Gary Oldman
Lesley Manville
Phil Davis
Charles Lawson
Cinematography Ben Philpott
Richard Philpott
John Ward
Edited by John Strickland
Distributed by BBC
Release dates
  • 26 February 1989 (1989-02-26)
Running time
70 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

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, 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. His wife does not approve 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 Stanley knife that Bex 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.

Bex leverages his natural leadership qualities to cajole and encourage his peers, and he sometimes intimidates those less eager. He plays a key role in organising trips to rival "firms" and also has visions of a national firm that would join all the smaller firms into one, but his ideas are not accepted by other firm leaders.

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. These young men think of themselves as important, respected figures in their local community, but Bex'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 isn't the working class hero he thinks he is.

Towards the end of the film Bex is shot dead by Yeti, the leader of a rival firm known as "The Buccaneers", during a violent clash. Bex's followers regard him as a hero and claim that when they are fighting European thugs at a 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. This makes Bexy a legend in the eyes of other hooligans.


Reception and legacy[edit]

As with most of Clarke's films, The Firm was similarly praised and condemned for its depiction of violence,[3] but has garnered retrospective acclaim. Philip French, writing in The Observer in 2009, described it as "by some way the best movie on the subject of football hooliganism and a key text on the subject of Thatcher's Britain."[4]

Being a British made-for-television film, The Firm was not reviewed by most film critics registered at popular review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, therefore it does not hold an overall approval rating there.[5] Of the reviews collected by that site, Film4 awarded it 4.5/5 stars, describing it as "a brilliant and compelling drama" and lauding the work of Gary Oldman: "Oldman is a master at playing psychopaths who manage to be both terrifying and hysterical. Here, he's at his visceral, intense best as king wide-boy Bex."[6] Derek Smith of Cinematic Reflections, in a positive review, described the film as "A jarring exploration of the male psyche and the devastating consequences of pride and uncontained machismo in a society where men's lives have lost meaning."[5] Josh Ralske of AllMovie awarded the film 3.5/5 stars, noting the controversy it created when first aired on BBC television.[7]

The Firm has been described as a cult classic.[8][9] In 2011, Josh Winning of Total Film named Oldman's portrayal of Clive 'Bex' Bissel as the best performance of his career, describing it as "stunning".[3]

VHS and DVD releases[edit]

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:

  • An introduction to the film by David Leland
  • A documentary on the life's work of Alan Clarke
  • Timewatch: A documentary exploring the roots of football hooliganism
  • The Late Show: Panel discussion and critical reaction to the film
  • Audio commentary with Phil Davis and Lesley Manville


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


  1. ^ "Screen Two: The Firm: TV Transmission". Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  2. ^ See Reception and legacy.
  3. ^ a b Winning, Josh. Best Movies: The film chameleon’s greatest moments. Total Film. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  4. ^ French, Philip. The Firm. The Observer. 20 September 2009. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  5. ^ a b The Firm. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  6. ^ The Firm. Film4. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  7. ^ Ralske, Josh. The Firm. Allmovie. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  8. ^ The Firm (2009). Virgin Media. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  9. ^ Newbould, C. (June 23, 2014). "Five of the best football films". The National. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 

External links[edit]