We've been rather spoilt for excellent terrestrial TV of late, what with the Beeb's recent superior Jane Eyre adaptation, the fantastic Prime Suspect 26: last orders at the bar please*, not to mention the continuing brilliance of Extras and Curb. But last night's Channel 4 recreation of Lord Longford's much-derided relationship with and campaign on behalf of moors murderer Myra Hindley possibly topped even that impressive list.
It's rare enough to see prime-time TV that raises questions worth answering - namely, in a nominally Christian society, what are the limits forgiveness? Do some acts put the perpetrator beyond redemption? and so on - let alone being able to do so with as light a touch and without ever appearing to be didactic or moralising. The performances of Jim Broadbent - an uncanny doppelgager for ("Fur-wank")** Longford - and Samantha Morton - compelling and just subtly ambiguous enough as Hindley to problematise the surprising degree of sympathy for the character her performance otherwise elicited. Andy Serkis was equally convincing as a more robustly diabolical Ian Brady.
The film may well have attracted a lot of more opprobrium (see March BBC item linked at the title) by refusing to completely demonise Hindley in the tabloid fashion we're familiar with. Instead, it sought to view her as Longford, a devout Christian committed to the redemptive possibilities of his faith, had and this brave move worked brilliantly. Longford's obdurate desire to see the best and not the worst was tested to the limit - first by the hatred and anger generated by his prison visitee, then by Hindley herself as she undermined his Lordship's years of patient work to win her a probation hearing. You could have been excused the belief that someone had unearthed a hitherto unknown dramatisation of the story by Graham Greene. Indeed, the evil conjured up by Brady & Hindley made Greene's own evil incarnation in Brighton Rock, Pinky Brown, seem tame.
Longford presents a chilling thesis: without faith in a redemptive, Christian God, life is absurd and meaningless. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of that faith and yet how to forgive Hindley and Brady - assuming even that we could/should. The Moors Murderers Hindley's personal betrayal of Longford represents the
*Please, please, please ITV - give us Prime Suspect: oh alright, just one more for the road.....
**"Who's this speech impedimented tosser??" asked a clearly worse for wear and tear S. when Broadbent uttered his first line...(that grammatical lapse is most out of character, btw.)
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