May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
November 4, 2009
If people think that makes me weak, or mad, so be it. That is the path I am committed to. To love the sinner, but hate the sins. To assume the best in people, and not the worst. To believe that anyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed… eventually.
Here’s an overlooked film that’s 100% Soul Food, an HBO production that premiered at Sundance in 2007. Lord Longford (a transformative portrayal by Jim Broadbent, who also happens to have played Professor Kirke in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE) is a British aristocrat whose outspoken Christianity led him to champion the cause of Myra Hindley, the notorious serial killer involved with England’s horrific “Moor Murders.” The SF Chronicle aptly calls the film “languid but always fascinating,” the story of “one man who tested his faith and his reputation by refusing to pass judgment.”
The man’s faith is front and centre throughout. Just as with the historical events, this smart film doesn’t make up our minds for us. Is Longford is a well-meaning but misguided Pollyanna whose “look on the bright side” religiosity makes him an easy mark for a manipulative criminal? Or is his the authentically Christlike choice, the hard way of radical obedience that follows Jesus to a shameful cross between thieves?
The title of Peter Stanford’s Longford biography points up something essential in the man when it dubs him “The Outcast’s Outcast”: in championing the outsider – as well as other unpopular causes – this man who was at one time the leader of the House of Lords makes himself a pariah. Broadbent’s thoroughly embodied performance suggests the sort of upper class softness and eccentricity lampooned in endless Monty Python sketches, at the same time as it suggests the possibility of Longford’s sanctity – or at least a thoroughgoing humanity and a divine humility. At the outset, Longford plumps his latest book for a smarmy BBC talk show host;
Host: So many questions to ask you, such a long and “distinguished” career. But I’m gonna start with the book. What prompted you to write it?
Longford: As a lifelong Christian and scholar, I’ve always been interested in ideas of sanctity. But more than that, I think it was probably the entirely selfish desire to spend a little time with my heroes.
Host: Your “heroes”?
Longford: Yes, that’s what the saints are – my heroes, friends, intercessors.
Host: (Pause.) Interesting! Right…
I wasn’t a long way into the film before I thought, “This reminds me somehow of The Queen” (Stephen Frears, 2006). Sure enough, the screenplay is by Peter Morgan, for whom 2007 was a big year: Longford won him the BAFTA TV Award for Best Writer, The Last King Of Scotland won him the BAFTA Film Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, the award for whichThe Queen was nominated. Also in 2007, the stage play FROST / NIXON travelled from the West End to Broadway – which ended up on screen in 2008.
Samantha Morton’s canny performance as Hindley beautifully serves the script, RSC actress Lindsay Duncan’s Lady Longford is exquisite, and Andy Serkis brings fire to the film whenever he’s onscreen as Hindley’s psychopathic lover – a character as memorably evil as Broadbent’s Longford is memorably decent. (Premise for a film: Gollum summons Digory Kirke to his prison cell…)
The fact that this is an HBO picture, as was The Notorious Bettie Page (Mary Harron, 2005), makes me wonder if there’s an exec there with some sort of interest in faith. Both films are substantial studies of Christianity playing itself out in unlikely ways, in unexpected people.
First published at Soul Food Movies