Wednesday, October 11, 2006 by

Minority Report star slams ‘luxury’ accommodation for paedophiles in jail”. That’ll be in your evening papers tonight, and the tabloids tomorrow. 

I’m back from an extraordinary morning spent in the Channel 4 cinema. It’s in a circular pit in the bowels of the company’s HQ, and it was here the press were treated to a screening of Longford a new feature-length drama about the Lord (of Derek and Clive “gives me the fucking horn” infamy) who spent the last three decades of his life battling to win parole for Myra Hindley. 

Written by Peter Horgan (The DealThe QueenFrost/Nixon) it stars Jim Broadbent in the title role, and Samantha Morton – that Minority Report star – as Hindley. And it’s a stunningly well-made drama, that prods at huge issue without ever really showing its hand. Was Longford a naive fool whose religious beliefs allowed him to be manipulated? Or was he blessed with a profound capacity for forgiveness and an admirable faith in humanity? Both arguments are well made in the course of its 90 minutes, but whichever side you favour, it’s still a crushing moment when Hindley latterly confesses to further murders, making a mockery of Longford’s support for her.

“It must be a nice place,” she says to him during their last meeting. “Where?”. “In your head”.

Following the screening, John Snow – who worked for Longford in a youth charity at the start of the ’70s – chaired a Q&A session with the film’s writer, cast (Broadbent, Morton and Lindsay Duncan, who plays Elizabeth Longford), the director (Tom Hooper) and Longford’s grandson (Tom Pakenham, who’s on the board of the Longford Trust, along with Snow). The Channel 4 News anchor kicked off by revealing he’d regularly taken dinner with the lord since the ’70s, but would never engage in discussions about Hindley, despite his friend’s enthusiasm for the subject.

The press then had a chance to put their questions, many – understandably – enquiring about the sensitivities around dramatising aspects of the Moors Murders. Hooper conceded they’d all felt uncomfortable recreating the recording of Lesley Ann Downey’s last moments, but it provided an integral – if mercifully brief – moment to the film which he didn’t want to dodge (although, he did state they had always stipulated they wouldn’t go as far as including any of Downey’s words). The Sun wanted to know if the relatives affected by the crimes had seen the film – they had – and if they’d watched it all the way through – they had. 

The Guardian felt the Lord was portrayed as an idiot, while another tabloid attempted to prompt a personal comment from Broadbent and Morton about their feelings for Hindley. Both side-stepped the question – as they should. 

And then, as the session neared its end, the cast were asked for their reflections upon filming in real prisons. It was here Morton – who became quite emotional – talked about her horror having walked through an enclave in one of the institutes which was decked out with quality furniture, a handsome communal kitchen, and Sky TV in every cell. Having just come through an area that was overcrowded and squalid, she was interested to know which prisoners were situated on this wing. Who was getting the special treatment? “It’s the paedophiles” she was told. 

Having been brought up in a series of children’s homes of vastly inferior condition, Morton had been shaken by this revelation. Her story was undeniably poignant, but I sense it blurred the whole focus of the event. Former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken had sat in for the film, but left before the Q&A. Nevertheless, his diminutive and aged media representative was still present, and she chirped up that some of her boss’s old lags had also made similar claims, saying it annoyed them that paedophiles were given better food than the rest of the prisoners.

Bringing matters to a close on this point, Snow asked if there were any final questions. A rotund fellow at the back stepped forward: “I met Longford a couple of weeks before he died – around the time Jeffrey Archer had been put in prison. ‘So,’ he’d said to me, ‘what are we going to do about Archer?’. ‘Oh, I’d much rather talk about Myra!’ I told him”.

The room was quiet, then Snow harrumphed. It was time to go. 

Longford is on Channel 4 on Thursday October 26.

UPDATEYou see?


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