Longford

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This review was written for the premium cablecast of "Longford."

While probing the life of the late Earl of Longford, screenwriter Peter Morgan raises questions about the quality of mercy. "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes," wrote William Shakespeare. Longford would certainly agree, though others might not see it the same way.

This Granada Television production stars Jim Broadbent as Frank Aungier Pakenham, the Earl of Longford. A convert to Catholicism, he is consumed by questions of faith and spirituality. As a member of the House of Lords, he has made it his mission to visit and assist every prisoner who asks for his help.

In 1967, that brought him in contact with Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton), who, along with her boyfriend, was convicted a couple years earlier of murdering three Manchester children. The judge in the case ruled that, though Myra procured the children, she did it under the influence of Ian Brady (Andy Serkis), her boyfriend.

In Longford, Hindley found the perfect advocate. Although he famously urged forgiveness for the Germans after World War II, he was held in esteem by British politicians and the public.

Defying public sentiment against Hindley, Longford championed her case for parole. He tells others -- and convinces himself -- that she is a victim of circumstances who can be rehabilitated. Morgan and director Tom Hooper suggest, however, that there are other influences at play. Longford, though unable to admit it even to himself, has developed a crush on Hindley, which has made him blind to conflicting evidence and the warnings of her former boyfriend.

Broadbent, who is in almost every scene, creates a fascinating and textured character. The actor reveals thoughts and feelings with subtle expression, carving out a portrait that is both vivid and memorable. In lesser hands, Longford might have come off as dogmatic or, worse, pathetic. Broadbent endows him with a cocktail of emotions that makes Longford simultaneously heroic and vulnerable. It is a performance that will likely not be forgotten later this year when Emmy nominations are announced. Supporting cast members also are well-cast, in particular Serkis, who is brilliantly bitter and contemptuous as the convicted boyfriend.

Hooper tells the story with honesty and sympathy. He doesn't dwell on the awful crime, but instead tells just enough to give the story context. Then he fashions a stellar and detailed character study of a complicated, confident but slightly misguided soul. Production design is credible and properly understated to enhance the inherent drama of the film.

LONGFORD
HBO
A Granada Television, Ltd. production in association with HBO Films and Channel 4
Credits:
Executive producers: Andy Harries, Peter Morgan
Producer: Helen Flint
Director: Tom Hooper
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Director of photography: Danny Cohen
Editor: Melanie Oliver
Music: Rob Lane
Cast:
Lord Longford: Jim Broadbent
Myra Hindley: Samantha Morton
Lady Elizabeth Longford: Lindsay Duncan
Ian Brady: Andy Serkis
Talk show host: Lee Boardman
Roy: Tam Dean Burn
Rachel Pakenham: Kate Miles
Lady Tree: Sarah Crowden
Harold Wilson: Robert Pugh
Longford's secretary: Caroline Clegg
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