Harold, a prosperous English gangster, is about to close a lucrative new deal when bombs start showing up in very inconvenient places. A mysterious syndicate is trying to muscle in on his action, and Harold wants to know who they are. He finds out soon enough, and bloody mayhem ensues.
A shady character, Colin (Paul Freeman -Raiders of the Lost Ark), carrying a suitcase of money pockets a couple handfuls of cash before making the delivery. In a country farmhouse the three men dividing the money in the case are attacked by gunmen. Outside a pub Colin's accomplices are abducted and killed. Colin is later murdered at a swimming pool.
The leading gangster in the London underworld (Harold Shand - Bob Hoskins in his breakout movie role) is forming an alliance with a group of rich, shady Americans to fund the very profitable London docklands development of the 1980s.
On Good Friday while Shand's mother attends church, her waiting driver is killed when her car explodes. The news of this is an outrage to Shand who is shocked at the declining code of conduct among the underworld. This decline parallels the decline of his empire throughout the film. He is given 24 hours to fix the situation or the Americans will walk away from the deal.
Shand is further unnerved at the news of his friend Colin's murder as well as the discovery of a bomb (which fails to detonate) at his casino. He covers up Colin's murder, the car bomb, and the later explosion of a restaurant where he is about to dine. He frantically rounds up and coerces informants and underworld bosses in an attempt to discover who is behind these events and what they want. He is brutal but he believes his behavior is within civilized boundaries.
Throughout he laments the decline of neighborhoods, respect for the church, respect for his power, England's economy, and honor among thieves. At the same time he professes to be appreciative of history, of what has been great about England, and is driven to build great things on the site of now idle dockyards.
Shand finds out that the bombings are caused by the IRA in revenge for Colin's having stolen the relatively small sum of 5,000. We also learn that the three men from the farmhouse at the beginning were also IRA. The IRA has connected Shand to Colin even though Colin was moonlighting as a courier without Shand's knowledge. Shand's top man tells him there is no fighting the IRA as they don't care about money ("they're fanatics") and that even if you kill them dozens more will always be ready to take their place. The IRA is taking over his empire and there is nothing he can do about it.
In a last attempt to end the fight Shand meets with the IRA under pretense of paying them off with 60,000 but he murders them instead. However, the Americans walk away from the deal anyway, dismissing Shand as a gangster. Shand lectures them on how they have no guts or vision and that he will deal with the Germans instead and not be stopped by them. But Shand is abducted by the IRA as he leaves the meeting and his downfall is complete.
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