Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Docudramas are curious beasts. Where does the docu end and the drama start? It’s difficult to say – and never more so than this Channel 4 adaptation, written by Peter Morgan.

Morgan is no stranger to the controversy that frequently attends this strange hybrid of fact and fiction, having only recently been responsible for The Queen, which ‘re-imagines’ the experiences of Queen Elizabeth II in the wake of Princess Diana’s death.

Copy picture

Here, Morgan’s attention, though ostensibly on penal campaigner, Catholic convert and sometime Leader of the Lords Frank Longford, turns to a queen of a very different sort. For surely if there was a modern queen of the damned, at least in the eyes of the public, it must be Moors child murderer Myra Hindley.

By intercutting the drama with genuine footage from the time of the murders and the years and vilification of Longford (dubbed "Lord Wrongford" by the tabloid press) that followed, a weight is leant to the fiction that you can’t help feel may unintentionally distort the picture. But that is the nature of beast.

Longford is dead, so unable to venture opinion on Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of his tireless campaigning. Certainly Broadbent’s acting prowess is not in doubt. He perfectly captures the Longford timbre and finds emotional complexity and nuance in the role above and beyond the script. Samantha Morton, too, plays Hindley with a commendable amount of ambivalence, leaving, for the most part, a viewer to judge whether she was manipulative to the last or truly contrite, although you sense the writer can't resist pushing his own theory on the matter. Andy Serkis – who rivals Robert Carlyle in his ability to be seriously scary without saying a word – also puts in a compelling performance as Hindley's partner in crime Ian Brady.

In fact, the acting is superlative throughout – doubtless BAFTAs will abound - with Lindsay Duncan also turning in a finely-tuned performance as Lady Longford, despite being used largely as the embodiment of ‘general opinion’, rather than a fleshed out character in her own right.

But excellent acting alone can’t stop the nagging suspicion that things are being grossly simplified. Longford’s friend and biographer Peter Stanford – who was consulted about the script – has acknowledged that some of the finished details “are just wrong”. But how are the general public to be able to make the distinction – and does it matter?

Longford is certainly successful in terms of its consideration of our penal system. Questions are raised regarding the more general state of prisons and parole – yet the focus seems too narrow. Since Longford’s life in the popular press has been largely reduced to his Hindley and anti-pornographic campaigning, it would have been nice to see the ‘edges’ of his life fleshed out more. While giving him 'emotional heart' which casts him in a very different light from the tabloid depiction, you feel there was much more to Longford's life than Hindley and yet it goes largely unrecorded.

Ultimately, Morgan’s film certainly meets the dramatic requirements but its oversimplified factual facets should be handled with care.

Reviewed on: 04 Jan 2007
Share this with others on...
Longford packshot
Docudrama about penal reform campaigner Lord Longford, with particular reference to Moors murderer Myra Hindley.
Amazon link

Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: Peter Morgan

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton, Lindsay Duncan, Andy Serkis, Robert Pugh, Lee Boardman

Year: 2006

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: UK


Sundance 2007

Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Queen