Between the years 1963-65, Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley kidnapped, tortured and murdered five children, burying their remains on the Saddleworth Moor near the Manchester area of England. Known in the UK as the Moors Murders, these sadistic crimes and their aftermath are brought vividly to life in the BBC mini-series, See No Evil: The Story of the Moors Murders, and in the HBO movie, Longford.
Part police procedural and part family drama, See No Evil is unusual for a crime tale in that it doesn’t actually show the crimes. In fact, it doesn’t dwell on the murders much at all, except for a couple of brief but horrific flashbacks. Rather it focuses on the savage pair’s everyday activities and family relations. It emphasizes the tragic effect the killings had on the victims’ loved ones and, in particular, on Myra’s sister, Maureen (Joanne Froggatt, who played Anna on Downton Abbey), and her husband David Smith (Michael McNulty). It was David, with Maureen’s encouragement, who broke the case open by reporting to the police that he had seen Ian brutally murder a teenager with a hatchet.
Despite the lack of criminal activity the movie is engrossing. Sean Harris as Ian and Maxine Peake as Myra do a fine job in displaying the subtle but distinctly cold and creepy attributes of this pair of psychopaths. The location filming on the windswept Moors and the haunting musical score ratchet up the tension.
Longford, also based on the Moors Murders case, takes place years after Ian and Myra have both been convicted and imprisoned. Myra is trying to get paroled by claiming that she has found God and repented her acts, which she only did because Ian made her do it, not to mention all the pre-trial prejudice due to her bad mug shot. (The mug shot really is creepy; google “Myra Hindley mug shot” to see it.)
In an effort to boost her chance for parole, she contacts British aristocrat Frank Aungier Pakenham, the Earl of Longford. Longford was a deeply religious Catholic, social activist and longtime advocate of prisoner’s rights. Opinion of him varied, with some approving of his work while others considered him to be a gullible, upper-class twit. Longford (Jim Broadbent) enthusiastically takes up Myra’s cause much to his personal and professional detriment.
This movie is intriguing right up to the end because of the sociopathic personalities of Brady and Hindley. Has she really repented her crimes and, even if she has, does that entitle her to be set free? Her partner in crime, Brady, disputes her conversion and tells Longford that she is just using him. Who is telling the truth? What about the victim’s families, who are outraged at the thought of this murderess being released? Themes of guilt, redemption, punishment and even sexism are touched on.
Both films are well done forays into true crime at its darkest. One criticism I could make is that the filmmakers presuppose a basic knowledge of the crimes that many Americans may not have. Nevertheless, both films are recommended. They are unrated but not suitable for children.
Check the WRL catalog for See No Evil.
Check the WRL catalog for Longford.