- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Longford comes alive

Peter Morgan may have been 2006’s screenwriter of the year. He’s up for an Oscar this month for “The Queen,” also a best picture nominee. His immensely intelligent script for “The Last King of Scotland,” which he co-wrote with Jeremy Brock, won a BAFTA Award earlier this month.

He’s shown an uncanny ability to reimagine real events, and his latest project is no exception. “Longford,” a co-production between HBO Films and Britain’s Channel 4 and Granada, premieres tomorrow night at 8 on HBO.

Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) is nearly unrecognizable as Frank Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford, the real-life politician who campaigned for the freedom of a murderess. The film opens in the 1990s with Longford on a radio program talking about a book he’s just written on the saints. But the callers wish to talk about someone rather less than saintly: Myra Hindley, sentenced to life in prison for her part in the notorious Moors Murders of five children in the 1960s.

“Knowing what you know now, do you regret helping her all those years?” one caller asks. The 90-minute film is an attempt to answer the question.

In 1967, Longford is a cabinet minister and leader of the House of Lords, known for his charitable work visiting prisoners. His family supports his vocation until he begins seeing Hindley (an intense but not over-the-top Samantha Morton of “Minority Report”), who assisted her lover Ian Brady (a suitably sinister Andy Serkis of “Lord of the Rings”) in the murders. When she seeks Longford’s help in returning to the Catholic Church, to which he’s a famous convert, he believes she’s been rehabilitated and should be considered for parole.

The public has a rather different view.

Mr. Morgan has written an insightful portrait of a devout man; the understated dialogue couldn’t have been easy to write. It helps that he has the great Mr. Broadbent to deliver with ease lines like, “No human being is beyond forgiveness. Condemn people from our armchairs and what have we become?” Longford isn’t an unbelievable saint, though. For years, he avoids listening to a tape that might prove Hindley isn’t as innocent as she claims.

Tom Hooper’s (HBO’s “Elizabeth I”) direction is also spot on, particularly in the point-of-view shots that give viewers the feeling of what it was like to be the most hated woman in Britain. In fact, it’s Hindley’s gender, as Longford’s wife, Elizabeth (Lindsay Duncan), points out, that makes her case so fraught with complication.

‘Slings’ slings dirt

Canadians are good at comedy — witness “Kids in the Hall” and “SCTV.” They’re also pretty good at theater — there’s the yearly Stratford Festival and Broadway’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which won five Tony Awards last year, including best book of a musical.

Combine the two and you get the Canadian television series “Slings and Arrows.” Its third (and final) season premieres on the Sundance Channel Sunday night at 8.

Written by “Chaperone” co-writer Bob Martin, along with Mark McKinney (“Kids in the Hall,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) and Susan Coyne, “Slings” is a witty satire about the fictional New Burbage Theatre Festival, a Shakespeare-heavy company not unlike the aforementioned Stratford.

Mr. McKinney stars as executive director Richard Smith-Jones, a numbers man who’s itching to get creative this season. Paul Gross, the memorable actor from “Due South,” is artistic director Geoffrey Tennant, whose “Macbeth” has just made a splash on Broadway, putting the pressure on his upcoming production of “King Lear.”

Don’t expect the laughs of “Kids” or “SCTV.” The series is more gently funny than those sketch comedies.

Don McKellar, the other co-writer of “Chaperone’s” book, pokes fun at the genre he’s had such success in. His avant-garde director has decided to move to musicals: “If you want to communicate something to the proletariat, cover it in sequins and make it sing.”

This season of six episodes welcomes a couple of new members to cast. The young (but veteran) Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley plays a classical actress, while Stratford vet William Hutt plays a washed-up actor whom Geoffrey taps to play Lear.

Strayhorn biopic on WHUT

Here’s a bit of good news for those who called us to complain about the late, 11:30 p.m. start time for last Saturday’s premiere of “Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life” on WETA-Channel 26: The District’s other PBS affiliate, WHUT-Channel 32, will air the revelatory documentary on the life of the neglected jazz great tomorrow evening at 8.

Using archival footage and interviews, the film examines Mr. Strayhorn’s (whose compositions include “Take the A Train,” “Satin Doll” and “Lush Life”) complex 29-year partnership with Duke Ellington and features performances by vocalists Elvis Costello and Dianne Reeves, pianist Bill Charlap, saxophonist Joe Lovano and guitarist Russell Malone.

‘Teenarama’ revisited

Local filmmakers Beverly Lindsay-Johnson and Herb Grimes, whose “Dance Party: The Teenarama Story” has been making the rounds on PBS stations nationwide this month, will screen the documentary tomorrow at 3 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library downtown (901 G St. NW).

The film, which premiered last April during Filmfest DC, revisits the success of teenage dance shows in the 1950s and ‘60s and pays homage to the “Teenarama Dance Party,” seen on the District’s WOOK-TV (the old Channel 14) from 1963-1970.

A panel discussion with the filmmakers — along with “Teenarama” regular Theresa Knight Johnson, Ruqqiah Sabour (a re-enactment dancer in the film) and WOOK commercial spokesperson Mishy Proctor — better known as “Pearl, The Miles Long Sandwich Girl” — will follow the screening.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff and wire reports.

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