Good viewing doesn’t always mean happy viewing, and this is something to bear in mind when watching Longford (2006), an underrated masterpiece directed by Tom Hooper and written by Peter Morgan. Hooper, of course, went on to win an Oscar for his film The King’s Speech, and Morgan is famous for writing various successes such as The Queen and Frost/Nixon.
Longford is about Francis Aungier Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford. He was famous for his anti-pornography campaigns, his opposition to gay rights (he referred to homosexuals as ‘handicapped people’), and for his shocking crusade to free Moors murderer Myra Hindley. It is this latter endeavour that forms the basis of this moving and disturbing biopic.
Jim Broadbent, in perhaps the best performance of his career, utterly convinces as the misguided Lord who desperately wants the world to see what he sees in Hindley. His visits to her in prison are excellently filmed, and the conversations are as compelling as they are troubling. It helps a great deal that Broadbent is paired with an actor as extraordinary as Samantha Morton, whose performance mixes together vulnerability with manipulative cunning. Is Myra earnest about her friendship with Frank, or is she playing mind games? This question rings loudly in the air throughout the picture, and Morton uses this to her advantage.
Ian Brady, her partner in love and crime, is chillingly brought to life by Andy Serkis, the man who will be eternally famous for his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as Gollum. In this film he only appears briefly but makes a big impression. The moment where he taunts Frank with what Hindley did to her child victims is almost unbearable.
A mention must also go to Lindsay Duncan as Frank’s wife, Elizabeth, who goes from cynic to convert when she reads Hindley’s letters to her husband. Duncan is one of our nation’s best actors, and he work here is a perfect example of her considerable talents.
I returned to this film, one which I have watched a number of times now, in the week when the terrible murders Hindley committed with Brady were back in the headlines. Although a film cannot ever really recreate the suffering the families of the victims went through, Longford does try to emphasise the controversial nature of the Lord’s campaign and show how upsetting it was for people involved in the case of the Moors murders.
Unfortunately those in the UK who wish to watch this film have to either view it via digital download or online streaming, or import (as I did) the Region 1 DVD. I have no idea why it wasn’t released as a disc in the UK (considering it was a British film, co-produced by ITV and Channel 4 with US giant HBO), and hope that one day it gets the release and treatment it deserves. Films as remarkable as this don’t come around often. Longford deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
A note on the disc: HBO’s USA release on DVD isn’t a particularly impressive release, quality-wise. The transfer is very grainy and clarity is disappointing. I’d expect better for a movie shot on 35mm film. In a perfect world, it would get a careful restoration and blu-ray release.
Lonford (2006), directed by Tom Hooper, is released on Region 1 DVD by HBO. You can watch it for free on 4oD by clicking here. The film contains scenes some viewers may find disturbing.