BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
FILMING will begin this month on a major new television series that dramatises the late Lord Longford's lifelong commitment to prison reform.
Longford, made by the American television network HBO — which produced the award-winning Sex in the City and Band of Brothers — will focus on the period in Frank Longford's life from his resignation from the British Government in 1968 to the first failed appeal tor release by the Moors murderer Myra Hindley.
Lord Longford, for many years a contributor to The Catholic Herald through his Charterhouse columns, campaigned for Hindley's release for nearly 10 years.
The series is based on Peter Stanford's biography of the Labour Peer and has been scripted by Peter Morgan, whose previous work includes The Deal, a dramatisation of the political agreement struck between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown over the leadership of New Labour.
Peter Stanford, a former Catholic Herald editor, said he had been closely involved with the writing of the script. He insisted that Lord Longford would have given the project his backing.
"Oh God, he would have loved it," he said. "Frank courted publicity to advance his causes and I'm sure he would have approved.
"The series comes from the modern school of reality drama and centres on Frank's involvement with the case of Myra Hindley. But it looks too at his wider concerns for prison reform and rehabilitation. It's easy to focus on Hindley and Longford as the key protagonists, but this is a much broader story that looks at Frank's crusade on behalf of all prisoners. In a sense Myra Hindley was just the most extreme example."
He said the dramatisation would avoid the classic Bernard Levin question: "Is he bankers?"
"Of course Frank was bankers," Mr Stanford said, "the key thing was, was he right? Was he right to preach ideas of forgiveness and rehabilitation? I think he emerges from the script as absolutely vindicated in what he was trying to achieve. Although this is about an historical episode it asks questions about our current attitude to prisoners. Is locking people away for lengthy periods of time really a successful strategy?"
The production has attracted some well-know stars. Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent will play Lord Longford. Elizabeth Lady Longford is played by Lindsay Duncan. The part of Myra Hindley is played by actress Samantha Morton.
Miss Morton has already said she first rejected the script but felt it was her duty "to raise issues in the world of things we're afraid to look at".
But the decision to dramatise Longford's campaign for the Moors murderer has attracted criticism from the families of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley's victims. Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett, who was murdered in 1964, has condemned the series as "disgusting".
However Mr Stanford insisted the drama was primarily focused on Lord Longford's commitment to prison reform."1 was initially wary because Frank was so lampooned in his lifetime, but the scriptwriter Peter Morgan is clearly trying to understand why Frank did what he did. I hope it will introduce a new generation to his ideas about how we treat prisoners and what constitutes an effective prisons policy."
He said the script did not portray Hindley as a "sympathetic character".
"It is hard to present someone who was responsible for the deaths of five children as sympathetic. I knew her and was sympathetic with her cause but I would not want to present her in a gentle light. This is certainly not an idealised presentation. It includes her attempt to escape and doesn't ignore, in any way, the appalling things that she did. Certainly Myra Hindley didn't always repay the trust and investment that Lord Longford placed in her."
Lord Longford died aged 95 in 2001. Myra Hindley's repeated appeals for freedom were unsuccessful. She died in prison in November 2002.
Longford will be broadcast on Channel 4 later this year.