National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

June 17-23, 2007 Issue | Posted 6/12/07 at 10:00 AM


Longford (2006)  - PICK

Bridge to Terabithia(2006)  - PICK

A nuanced and aware exploration of the Christian precepts of forgiveness, corporal works of mercy (visiting prisoners) and the beatitude of persecution for righteousness’ sake, the award-winning HBO film Longford comes this week to DVD. It’s based on the true story of Catholic convert Lord Longford and “Moors murderess” Myra Hendley.

The screenplay by The Queen scribe Peter Morton establishes the key facts. Frank Pakeham, the Earl of Longford (uncanny Jim Broadbent) and then-leader of the House of Lords — an eccentric but devout Catholic well known for his work visiting prisoners — courts controversy and notoriety when he starts visiting one of England’s most notorious and vilified prisoners.

Myra Hendley (ambiguous Samantha Morton), along with Ian Brady (chilling Andy Serkis), was convicted in the mid-1960s “Moors murders” case, which involved kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of children. Hendley is also a Catholic convert, and Longford encourages her to return to the Church. At the same time, he campaigns for her right to a parole hearing, braving public criticism and even resistance from his usually supportive wife (Lindsay Duncan).

Though thematically similar to Dead Man Walking, Longford grapples more directly and thoughtfully with religious themes. It doesn’t glorify its eccentric, somewhat tragic protagonist. There are hard questions about Longford’s efforts on Hendley’s behalf. Did he need another cause after losing the leadership of the Lords? Had he fallen under Hendley’s spell? Above all, was it ultimately worth it? Longford provides no easy answers, but its engagement of these questions is among the most thought-provoking and rewarding I’ve seen in any film.

Based on Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Award-winning 1978 novel, Walden Media’s Bridge to Terabithia follows their recent Charlotte’s Web in preserving the key points from the book while encumbering the story with irrevelant “family film” clutter — in this case unmagical fantasy sequences jarringly at odds with the unsentimental, realistic tone of the book, especially its most significant plot point. In spite of this miscalculation, the strengths of the original story carry over into the film to a sufficient degree to make it a worthwhile experience.

Cautious, quiet, poor, Jess (Josh Hutcherson) doesn’t fit in at home or at school. That’s until he finds an unlikely friend in Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a new girl who lacks Jess’s meager survival skills but possesses inner resources he doesn’t. She opens new worlds for Jess. A visit to church raises questions of spirituality, with the agnostic Leslie strangely attracted to the Jesus story in a way Jess the believer doesn’t understand.

Despite missteps, the power of the book’s story comes to life in fits and starts. It’s worth catching with your older kids, maybe, if they appreciated the book. Those who haven’t read the book should probably postpone the film until they have.

Content advisory

Longford: Disturbing plot elements including back-story serial killing of children; brief nudity; some strong language. Mature viewing. Bridge to Terabithia: Mature themes including death and child abuse (both offscreen); some onscreen bullying; a few fantasy-style action sequences; a few instances of minor profanity. Might be disturbing to sensitive children.