The Firm (1989 movie)

1989 film directed by Alan John Clarke

The Firm is a 1989 British made-for-television drama movie.

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

It was directed by Alan Clarke. It was written by Al Hunter Ashton for the BBC.

It stars Gary Oldman, Phil Davis, Charles Lawson and Steve McFadden.

The film is based on the activities of the Inter City Firm, a football firm of West Ham United during the 1970s and 1980s.

The film, courted controversy on release. It has come to be regarded among the best films on the subject of football hooliganism.

It is notable for having almost no background music. The only music is over the opening titles. It is Dean Martin's rendition of "That's Amore".

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 disapproves of his activities as a football hooligan. These contrast to his respectable job as an estate agent. He is unwilling to give up violence as it gives him a "buzz".

Bexy's father accepts his son's lifestyle. He takes a group photograph of the 'tooled up' gang. He boasts that he did similar activities when younger. He feels that Bex has gone soft because they now use weapons.

The film begins with a rival gang called "The Buccaneers" vandalising Bexy's Ford Sierra XR4x4. While Bexy is playing football, they spray graffiti in the dressing room. Yeti, the leader of the Bucaneeers drives a white Volkswagen Golf GTi cabriolet across the football pitch.

Bexy wants to form a 'National Firm' made up from rival gangs. He wants this 'firm' to be big enough to take on the large international hooligan groups. Bexy meets leaders from other firms in the Tower Hotel in London. This includes the Buccaneers. The other gangs like the idea. They do not like the idea of Bexy being top boy. The rival firms agree to fight each other to decide who will lead the new firm into Europe.

Bexy uses intimidation to keep his position as leader of the ICC. The young men think of themselves as respected figures in their local community. Bexy's wife tells him that is not correct. She says everyone thinks of him as a joke. She says they fear his violent nature, so few are willing to stand up to him.

The ICC survive violent clashes with the other gangs. They must still defeat the Buccaneers. Bexy is looking forward to defeating Yeti. Bexy beats up Yeti during the ICC's clash with the Buccaneers. He is shot dead by an injured Yeti.

The closing scene depicts the surviving ICC members in a pub. They honour Bexy as a hero. They will fight the European firms in memory of their dead leader. The hooligans agree that Bex was a visionary who brought them together. They give him legendary status. They vow to continue.

Reception and legacy


The Firm proved controversial.[3][4]

It 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".[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". It features Oldman "at his visceral, intense best".[9]

Josh Winning of Total Film observed its "unflinching depictions of violence". He named Oldman's "stunning" performance as the best of his career.[5]

In 2018, Matthew Thrift of the British Film Institute 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. It was in a double pack with the similarly themed ID.

A DVD was first released by Prism Leisure on 2 Feb 2004.

The film has been sold as part of numerous box-sets. These often include films of a similar nature or from director Alan Clarke.

On 10 Sep 2007, the BBC released a special edition DVD in collectible SteelBook packaging. 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

A version of the film was included in the 2016 DVD set Alan Clarke at the BBC, Volume 2: Disruption. This version includes censored scenes restored from tape. The new scenes include: 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). It was also released as a stand-alone DVD. Both releases were under the British Film Institute's control.



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. Archived from the original on 8 August 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  2. See Reception and legacy.
  3. 3.0 3.1 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. 5.0 5.1 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.

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