Acts of contrition


Forty-two years after she and her partner Ian Brady claimed their final victim in a string of child murders, and five years after her own death, Myra Hindley remains perhaps the most despised killer in British history. Longford presents a fictionalized account of the troubled and troubling relationship between the jailed Hindley and the Earl of Longford, a dogged prisoners’ rights advocate.

Despite its setting, Longford seems aimed at American audiences; repeatedly it explains the depth of public hatred in Britain toward Hindley, the longest-serving female prisoner in history of the British penal system. While serial killers also haunt the American memory, no single murderer is the focus of such concentrated enmity on a national scale.

Samantha Morton, no stranger to difficult roles, was publicly denounced for accepting the role of Hindley, whose name and iconic mug shot image remain powerfully taboo. But any accusation of sensationalism should be assuaged upon viewing her unapologetic (if, on occasion, flat) portrayal of the “Moors Murderer.”

As Longford, though, Jim Broadbent has perhaps the greater challenge. To portray the aging peer with nuance, Broadbent must make tangible a complex set of ideals and emotions—aristocratic benevolence, deep religious faith, stubborn optimism and the requisite level of self-absorption required for a contrarian crusader. The real Lord Longford’s cartoonish appearance and mannerisms pose no challenge for Broadbent physically (remember Moulin Rouge?), but do present another hurdle to making the activist earl something more than a caricature.

The cast of Longford, which also includes Andy Serkis as Ian Brady and the delectably proper Lindsay Duncan in the pivotal role of Longford’s wife, rises above Peter Morgan’s somewhat utilitarian script and truncated timeline. The core of the film, however, is well realized: an absorbing examination of a perverse Pygmalion and the grossly disturbed recipient of his benefaction.