The latest HBO/BBC collaboration involves one of 20th-century Britain’s most controversial murder cases, albeit one that is little known in the U.S. In the U.K., Longford might have played like a standard-issue biopic, but for many Americans, the lack of familiarity will add considerable suspense and thematic weight.
Jim Broadbent stars as Frank Pakenham, Lord Longford, a government minister who became a pariah after his hobby—reforming prisoners through Catholicism—introduced him to Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton). In 1966, Hindley and her boyfriend Ian Brady (Andy Serkis) were given life sentences for the rape and murder of five children. When Longford visits Hindley in prison, he becomes convinced that Hindley was Brady’s puppet, but the extremely shifty Brady argues that Hindley is an accomplished liar. Longford gives Hindley the benefit of the doubt, which frustrates his wife (Lindsay Duncan), turns him into a media whipping boy and makes him even more determined to hold his ground as years pass.
Broadbent is one of today’s busiest actors, but his ubiquity never prevents him from vanishing into roles, and Longford is no exception. His performance is a deeply affecting portrait of a man whose intellect is as strong as his faith, and it becomes more compelling still after Longford’s wife comes to share his view of Hindley. Morton’s resigned opacity will keep many guessing, and Sirkis’s menacing intensity—never overdone—makes Brady a true wild card. Despite the protagonist’s piety, the film is short on explicit religious content, but as advertisements for Christianity go, Longford’s strident advocacy for the disenfranchised is about a hundred times more effective than all 16 Left Behind books combined. — Andrew Johnston