by Allan Fish
(UK 2006 93m) DVD1
Call me Frank
p Helen Flint d Tom Hooper w Peter Morgan ph Danny Cohen ed Melanie Oliver m Robert Lane
Jim Broadbent (Lord Longford), Samantha Morton (Myra Hindley), Lindsay Duncan (Lady Elizabeth Longford), Robert Pugh (Harold Wilson), Andy Serkis (Ian Brady), Kika Markham (Governor Wing), Anton Rodgers (Willie Whitelaw),
The names won’t be familiar to people in the US; Keith Bennett, Leslie-Anne Downey, Pauline Reade, John Kilbride and Edward Evans. Yet ask the British public to name the most reviled person or persons in British criminal history, not just in the 20th century but of all time, then the winner, if that’s the correct term, would be Myra Hindley. The Wests killed more, Dr Shipman many more by pharmaceutical proxy, Crippen, Christie and Sutcliffe were infamous, the original Jack legendary, yet none would come close.
From 1963 to 1965, the A635 became an all too real Highway to Hell where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley beat and murdered five children before being sent to prison for life. They were ushered away after sentencing by the presiding judge not with the words “take them down” but “put them down”; their chances of release somewhat less than nil. The one man who thought differently was the former leader of the House of Lords, famous philanthropist Lord Longford, who saw Hindley as merely another one of his prisoners seeking redemption. He spent much of his later life campaigning for her parole and Peter Morgan’s screenplay tells that story.
It’s impossible now to recreate the feeling of murderous hatred felt by the public towards these two human monsters. For Morgan and director Hooper to even attempt to make a drama out of it and be subjective might be seen as a lunacy to rival Longford’s campaigning on Hindley’s behalf. It’s a film whose argument rests on several moral quandaries, not just that of forgiveness and redemption, but the simple but vital distinction between what’s understandable and what’s justifiable. Morgan’s greatest single achievement is that he successfully plays with our conventions and turns them against us. Take the scene where Longford first goes to visit Hindley and sees, from the back, a peroxide blonde and thinks it’s her, due to the only picture we have of her being her post-interview police photo. Then, from the next seat, up pops a quiet, dowdy, dark-haired woman with monotone Lancashire accent who looks like you could say boo to her and she’d run off. Morgan, Hooper and Morton daring us to be drawn in; their characters and the hopelessness of the situation summed up in that first exchange. He shows all of his “endearing childlike qualities” when he observes “what a pretty smile you have” like a guileless visitor to a primary school. When Hindley replies with candour “have you forgotten who I am?”, there’s no psychotic pride there, or at least if there is it plays second fiddle to her being so gobsmacked at what she can only see as his naivety.
As the eponymous do-gooder, Broadbent gives his finest performance, capturing seemingly effortlessly the man who was, as it turns out, mistaken in judging others by his own standards. He’s the soul of the film in a film about the soulless, and the credit to Samantha Morton cannot be overestimated. In a fiendishly complex perfornance, she captured from that very first scene, to use that grossly overused phrase, the banality of evil. By the end, Hindley and the nonagenarian lord have become the opposite ends of a good and evil spiritual level, the latter finally perhaps understanding, if with horror, the spirituality, black though it may be, of the compulsion to do evil. A compulsion shared by Brady, who in two scenes is played with such a feral, calculating intensity by Serkis as to rival Hopkins’ Lecter, meeting Longford like a king granting audience to an inferior. And from out of the darkness, the nauseating sounds emanating from an old cassette tape, the shushes aimed at terrified children and the look of horror on the face of the listener. It’s like staring death in the face and being told, in a very dull quiet voice with eyes that pierce right through you even when not looking at you directly, “sit down.”