Shannon Trust Reviews - Final Part

"The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society" edited by Norval Morris and David J.Rotham

A Book Review by Alain English

Focussing mainly on the development of the prison in the United States and United Kingdom, this book provides a densely-packed and thorough discussion on the practice of imprisonment as part of the justice system in these societies. 

A number of academic authors provide separate chapters tackling the different facets of the prison system as it has evolved, including a look the origins of the prison in the legal systems of ancient Greece and Egypt, women prisons and delinquent children as well as political prisoners.  There is an excellent discussion of the Victorian penal colonies in Australia, along with the many attempts at penal reform, changing the justice and prison systems to make them fairer.  The last chapter deals with the interesting topic of prison literature, and the many ways life behind bars has been expressed through the written word. 

It is an academic text, and at times feels very leaden and dry.  But it is still impressively written and would make a good reference book for prisons.  There is a rich and formidable amount of insight here to provide some clarity and explanation for the current state and methods of today's prison systems.

 

"The Outcast's Outcast: A Biography of Lord Longford" by Peter Stanford

A Book Review by Alain English

Frank Pakenham, aka Lord Longford (1906-2001) was an eccentric but popular politician best known for his campaigning for social and penal reform.  He made such an investment in working on behalf of prisoners, journalist Richard Ingram once stated "the only thing I mind about going to prison is the thought of Lord Longford coming to visit me."

The privileged son of Thomas Pakenham, the 5th Earl of Longford, Frank Pakenham grew up in the early part of the twentieth century in both England and Ireland.  He was schooled at Eton, studying economics, before getting involved with politics on the eve of the Second World War.  Initially a Conservative, Frank was attracted towards the Labour Party and became more sensitive than most others with his upbringing to the plight of the working classes.

Longford's interest in prisoners and penal reform dated back to the 1950s when, on Opposition in the House of Lords, he set up a study on the causes of crime.  In this, he concluded that society did not do enough to rehabilitate prisoners once they were in prison and when they got out of it.  Prisoners once released, were too often returning to crime.  His penal reform campaigns and his prison visiting grew out of his Catholic beliefs - "Love the sinner, not the sin."  Having wanted to fight in the Second World War and been unable to do so because of an injury, he felt an empathy with those marginilised by society and this led to one of his nicknames "the outcast's outcast."

His prison visits allowed him to form relationships with many prisoners including IRA bomber Shane O'Doherty, 'the most violent man in Britain" Charles Bronson and Moors murderer Myra Hindley, who along with Ian Brady committed a grisly series of child murders in the 1960s.  His relationship with Hindley more than anything threatened to derail much of the good work he did with prisoners in the eyes of the media as many felt that Hindley was beyond redemption.

Throughout his career, Longford is shown in a number of ways - erudite and scholarly, unworldy and occasionally naive, but above all a compassionate man with a keen sense of justice.  Despite the mockery he received in the press, he is a man who is shown to have been correct in the long run about many things and that even after his death, his ideas about prison reform are being studied and developed by politicians today.

This is an excellent book, and should hopefully pave the way for some of Longford's own writings to be more widely read. 

 

"Longford" (2006)

Written by Peter Morgan

Directed by Tom Hooper

Starring Jim Broadbent as Lord Longford

A Film Review by Alain English

Peter Morgan is a screenwriter with a reputation for taking on difficult subjects - he's tackled Tony Blair three times on camera and with this piece, made for television, looks at the difficult subject of Frank Pakenham, aka Lord Longford.

Lord Longford was a Christian and campaigner for social and penal reform.  He was well known for his conversion from Conservatism to socialism and asking for sympathy for the starving German population in the aftermath of World War II.  This drama looks at the last three decades of his life, and focusses on his controversial relationship with Moors murderess Myra Hindley. 

The peculiar friendship between the pair begins with Longford convincing Hindley to turn to the Catholic Church as a path towards forgiveness, but things take a turn for the worse for him when he tries to help her gain parole...

Longford is given a sensitive portrayal by Jim Broadbent, who wears a prosthetic chin and nose to play the role, and he captures the child-like naivety but also tenacity his character.  Samantha Morton is brilliant as Hindley, evoking sympathy for Myra Hindley.  She's intense enough to convince as a murderer, but she gives the part a vulnerability that makes her performance very affecting.  Andy Serkis plays Ian Brady, and he comes across as a snarling, manipulative psychopath who plays on Longford's emotions in a vengeful attempt to make him distrustful of Myra.  Serkis nails his part, and is a formidable presence whenever he is onscreen.

Peter Morgan's narratives always fictionalize certain areas to benefit the drama, and the closing meeting between Longford and Myra feels a little too contrived to really ring true.  Nevertheless as a whole, this is a very well-told story of betrayal and redemption.

◄ Prose and Cons

"I'll Be All Right Tomorrow" and "Touch" reviews ►

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