Monday, 5 September 2011

Longford's Lie: The Origin of the Work of Art

Tom Hooper, that's Oscar winning Tom Hooper, garnered numerous accolades and world-wide recognition for The King's Speech (2010) - a portrayal of King George VI. That's not strictly true though is it? The statement certainly is true in a sense, there are no falsities within, yet it doesn't reveal the entire picture and the Picture's true meaning. It is also a portrayal of stammering - a vocalised defect and disability. It is a clear portrayal of Empire and Immigration where royalty meets slavery. It is even an analogy for organic beings communicating and living through technological means. These are all true statements. Is the film true?

This question is controversial, integral and . . . well, tired and boring. This blog cannot compete with Heidegger and a pair of boots, so it won't.

Fig 1. Van Gogh's boots, Heidegger's mission. 

Leaving Heidegger and entering the fray several brain levels lower than him, we can begin. The King's Speech and its relation to truth is measured through its accuracy in depicting historical events. This accuracy is tenuous. Christopher Hitchens took exception to the portrayal of Winston Churchill; replace Timothy Spall's endearing support for the underdog with, well, searing hate for the underdog and you've got a fairer representation. Replace the King's witty remark at Hitler's impressive speaking voice with a fetish-like admiration for National Socialism's cultural program and Colin Firth, that's Oscar-winning Colin Firth, gets closer to becoming George VI.

Adaptations of Royalty is a common subject for British writers, and the writer Peter Morgan is no exception. Morgan had the brilliant idea of educating the masses in the ways of the oft-forgotten ruler - Henry VIII. Or was that the oft-mentioned and quiz-show incumbent Henry VIII. I don't know but he had an obsession with heads; he made himself Head of the Church, he collected previous wives' heads, and this was presumably all down to his not receiving any . . . heirs. Morgan called this Henry VIII (2003). The history of Henry VIII is full of enough blood, violence and religious upheaval to baffle any writer into fitting it all in. Not so for Peter Morgan who insisted on doubling Henry's efforts in the ITV drama - the dissolution of the Church is represented not through politics but screaming victimised nuns and Robert Aske's execution was apparently not violent enough so instead of the historical beheading we are treated to poor old Sean Bean being hung, drawn and quartered. Violently. Peter Morgan also added some racy scenes - Anne Boleyn goes all soap opera when she wears a lace headdress, exposing her hair which in Tudor times was the equivalent of a photo now found in The Sun. Scandalous.

Fig 2. Thou are royally fit, and ye doth know it. 

However, the important question arises, do these inaccuracies matter? In one aspect they do, providing historical integrity heightens the realism and notion of what a film is trying to convey. However does the film deliberately mis-lead the audience and become propaganda? No I do not think that The King's Speech or Henry VIII does. They may be stupid, or incredibly stupid when regarding the latter, but they are preserving some form of truth. The King's Speech is undeniably a personal tale of a man's struggle with social order and control - his personal admiration for a diluted Nazi Germany does not render this struggle any less truthful, or change the dynamic between himself and his Australian teacher. The same goes for Ray Winstone's cockney Tudor; blood becomes bloodier, romps become more rampant yet the intentions of portraying a political upheaval in the background of one man's megalomania is solid. Even if the resulting show is unwatchable.

It seem's I've let Hooper, Firth and Morgan walk away from the gallows (or in Morgan's case, a laser-gun death chamber full of half bat-half octupus interrogators). This assumption is not true. In fact it is entirely false. As Firth walks away from imminent death I would haul Messrs Hooper and Morgan back and read them their new charges.

If Henry VIII is an example of crass drama that ultimately is inoffensive in it's irregularities, then Longford (2007) directed by Hooper and written by Morgan is its polar opposite - a brilliantly acted, brilliantly written, brilliantly created drama that is sadly ONE BIG MISLEADING LIE.

Longford dramatises the events of Lord Longford's relationship with Myra Hindley from 1969 to his death in 2001. The film itself is superb. Jim Broadbent's performance goes past the distinct nasal voice of the Labour peer to reveal an emotional, intelligent and progressive thinker trying to cast off society's imposed moralities. Longford is punished by the public's misunderstanding of his motives; Justice is the Lord's quest in life where the old adage of an eye-for-an-eye can never be administered in a fair society - regardless of the severity of a crime. Longford is ridiculed by both political equals and in one scene adolescent boys, adding further to his feeling of uselessness in old age.
The film boasts a clever and restrained performance from Samantha Morton in the role of Moors murderer Hindley; given the hard task of transforming a black and white picture into a living and breathing reality, she commits herself brilliantly by in fact, doing very little. Longford also features a three scene tour de force by Andy Serkis, whose embodiment of Ian Brady is truly terrifying. Serkis doesn't just let the name and persona do the work, his disgusted expression and Scottish growl creates a mesmerising danger that exists regardless of Longford's protection by prison guard, and a viewer's protection by screen.

The controversy surrounding Serkis' visit to Ian Brady makes it all the more potent, and perhaps adds to the notion of 'realism' which the film aspires to. There are no gruesome photos or manic police offices here - the action is almost strictly confined to prison visits and Longford's study. This 'realism' and lack of sensationalism figures both in and outside the work; the restrained direction of Hooper reflects Longford's strive to strip down emotion and understand the idea of human rights - not just for the good of the prisoner, but for the good of the judge, victim's family and society. This film is not about murder, corruption or politics but about 'Natural Rights' and Hooper makes no mistake that Lord Longford is the one that understands this. By the end of the film the audience sympathises with the old man being berated by common radio listeners - they finally understand Lord Longford.

No they don't. Not if this film is all they can go by. My hand is twitching to bring the guillotine down on Hooper and Morgan and this is why -

Lord Longford on Homosexual Rights:

  1. it was "nauseating" and he would not accept it, even in Law. 
  2. Homosexuals were "handicapped people".
  3. "if someone seduced my daughter it would be damaging and horrifying but not fatal. She would recover, marry and have lots of children... On the other hand, if some elderly, or not so elderly, schoolmaster seduced one of my sons and taught him to be a homosexual, he would ruin him for life. That is the fundamental distinction."

Oh dear. Lord Longford was a homophobe. I must have missed this in the film. I will watch it again. There is no mention of Longford's homophobia and bigotry. Not one small hint. This is a clear distortion of truth.

No dramatisation is ever really truthful, that is quite obvious -but some dramatisations can be knowingly deceitful. As earlier stated The King's Speech does bypass the aspect of Royalty and Nazism, but it importantly did not skewer the central beliefs of the film which rather uninspiringly was a standard tale of disabled man against adversity. Longford, on the other hand, presents itself as a study of a man committed to Human Rights under natural law. We forgive him for his contrition with child murderers, and his judgement of the victim's parents in their media courting, because he is a campaigner for Human Rights. Yet introduce the undisputed homophobia of Longford and the picture drastically changes. The boots are no longer Van Gogh's - they are two donkeys in disguise on their way to NASCAR. The truth of Longford is distorted, the intentions become corrupt, it is simply a lie.

Fig 3. Jim Broadbent; lying about his glasses, hair and accent. 

My hand shakes in anticipation of bringing the blade down on Tom Hooper and Peter Morgan for duping me, for completely understanding a man, only to take it all away. For placing my faith in drama, only for it to be revealed as unreality. However I don't. I let them go. Corporal punishment never works, so i forgive them. Hooper goes on to win an oscar. Morgan continues writing, and good, he's really great at it.

It's only a film. Yes, it is. But that still does not make it a lie.
The King's Speech is not truthful about reality, but it conveys a truth about ability, status and imprisonment.
Henry VIII is not truthful about reality, but conveys a truth of political and personal relationships which we as inescapable 21st century beings can understand.
Longford is not truthful about reality, and does not convey a truth about a man searching for Natural Law.
If i ever meet Tom Hooper and Peter Morgan i'll challenge them on this - I'm not asking for the impossible where a film can become reality, thats daft, all i'm asking for is integrity and moral intentions in its conception.

But i'd rather watch Longford than The King's Speech or Henry VIII. It's bloody good.

Fig 4. Tom Hooper in the grasp of Oscar. 



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