If you’ve been enjoying “The Crown,” or look forward to tucking into the second season on Netflix, then my Friday Pick, “Longford,” is for you.
“The Crown” was created by Peter Morgan, Britain’s premier writer of historical drama. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time — and so, obviously, have the executives at Netflix, who invested $100 million to launch this series, a record for that network.
Morgan also wrote “The Queen,” for which Helen Mirren won her Oscar, also playing Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps not surprisingly, Morgan repurposed a scene or two from that movie in “The Crown,” which not all professional show-watchers were happy about.
Morgan wrote “Frost/Nixon,” a superb period piece about the historic David Frost-Richard Nixon interviews in the 1970s.
This weekend, though, I want you to seek out “Longford,” a tight, suspenseful piece Morgan wrote about a crime story that dominated the British tabloids in the 1970s.
Ten years ago “Longford” took home more Golden Globes than any other TV program, including “Mad Men” — and was promptly forgotten. (It didn’t help that those were the Globes that weren’t televised because of a writers’ strike going on at the time.)
“Longford” stars Jim Broadbent as an eccentric but highly conscientious member of the British House of Lords. He befriended a prisoner named Myra Hindley after she was jailed in the 1960s for her role in a string of notorious child murders that made her name as awful in Great Britain as Jeffrey Dahmer’s was here.
Longford was a liberal Catholic who believed so strongly in prisoner rehabilitation that he took up the case of Hindley, played by Samantha Morton, despite enormous public opprobrium that ultimately damaged his career. These are career performances from Broadbent and Morton, who make their odd and mutually destructive relationship seem real.
I was especially touched by Broadbent’s ability to make a person like Longford seem both saintly yet strangely naïve about the nature of incarcerees like Hindley. He put his reputation on the line to defend someone so routinely called a “monster” in the press and in public that it was hard to imagine anyone humanizing her.
“Longford” is free with your HBO subscription. It’s on DVD from the Netflix-owned service DVD.com (or as we called it back then, Netflix). You can pay to stream it, or find it at your library.
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