Respectable – The Mary Millington Story

Dir: Simon Sheridan, 2016

9/10

respectable-the-mary-millington-story-2

Britain’s first true porn star who destroyed the bar for sexual liberation in the UK.

Born Mary Quilter, Millington rose to the top of her game with her outgoing and personality, girl next door looks and campaign for adults to be treated like adults.

It’s a rather sad film, as Millington comes across as having low self esteem and a desire just to be loved and liked.

A shame as she was well liked and could be the life and soul of a party.

Unfortunately, she shone at a time when Britain was at its most puritanical and over zealous with a pro-censorship campaign group pulling quite a few strings.

Eternal whinger and spoiler-for-everybody else, Mary Whitehouse, led her anti-obscenity group the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVLA) to great success.

A devout Christian, Whitehouse was never afraid to bring private prosecutions against anything she felt to be blasphemous or just something she didn’t like.

It’s not surprising that porn featured prominently on her radar.

Britain has always had a stiff upper lip mentality and obsession with class. The ruling class reigned supreme.

Up until the end of the 20th Century, hardcore porn was illegal to distribute. The powers that be held the anachronistic view that sex was bad and dirty and certainly not something to be enjoyed.

Millington battled many demons of her own but none stronger than the establishment and the police.

The constabulary regularly raided her (legal) sex shops for selling obscene material, or material that they deemed to, potentially, be obscene regardless of whether it was or not.

To fight such a charge costs an enormous amount of money, and it was something the former Miss Quilter didn’t have.

That’s not to say that porn was successfully kept out of the country. The police failed miserably at that one. But, Millington’s fame made her an easy target and great fodder for ticking boxes on a police sheet.

They had to look like they were doing something and all the raids looked good.

But this took a toll on Mary’s mental health. The stress she suffered at the hands of the establishment eventually became too much and she ended her own life in 1979 at the young age of only 33.

Respectable is a documentary that can rear up so many different feelings and emotions. The two primary ones being sadness and anger.

You can’t help but to feel sad at her death because she came to the conclusion that suicide was the only path open to her. If it wasn’t for the constant harrassment from the police she might still be with us.

The Metropolitan police raided and hounded her so many times, with Mary Pain In The Arse Whitehouse condemning her very existence, that a unrelenting grip of anger takes hold of you.

Mary Millington WAS treated unfairly. The police and the NVLA DID have a hand in her death, albeit unwittingly. They should be taken to task for their part in the suicide.

Featuring talking heads of most of Mary’s acquaintances and family, the consensus is that Mary is still missed.

It’s great to hear how the star stuck two fingers up to the establsihment, even though they, ultimately, won.

This is not just a documentary about Mary Millington and her films. It’s about censorship.

Sheridan doesn’t shy away from showing excerpts of her adult films, including shots of penetration and fellatio.

The director was right to do this because Mary campaigned against censorship and wanted adults to be free to choose their own form of pleasure.

Omitting these hardcore inserts would have been a betrayal to everything she stood for and would have counteracted the whole film.

There are many talking heads, here, all with great things to say about her. You do have to wonder, though, how a pornographer like David Sullivan managed to get a girl like Mary.

Making matters worse is the inclusion of cocaine and drink. The seventies was rife with the social drug and the warnings and cautionary tales were not as prevalent as they are today so it became a very easy drug to obtain and, alas, get addicted to.

Mary fell victim to this and the company she kept didn’t help, merely feeding her addiction.

It’s not all and doom and gloom though. Simon Sheridan gleefully show us clips from some of her more softcore, comedies.

Come Play With Me is a terribly bad film but with that seventies English charm that we were so good at making. The same can be said for The Playbirds.

Nothing more than risque Carry On… films, Britain’s answer to porn was relegated to mildly sexy movies like Timothy Lea’s Confessions series or Rosie Dixon Night Nurse. The Adventures catalogue is another forgotten entry.

Featuring casts of well known faces from UK television, the films were typically seventies fare with jokes about birds and knockers. George Harrison Marks’s Come Play With Me attempted to push boundaries and cross genres all under the moniker of respectability.

With a cast such as Alfie Bass, Irene Handl and Ronald Fraser Marks’ was able to lift it from the doldrums of porn to legitimate cinema.

A real kick in the teeth is that Millington died in her belief that people should be allowed to watch porn. Here we are in the 21st Century and porn far more explicit than Mary ever made is now freely available to buy in the UK, and in licensed sex shops. All the fears that the government had about people becoming depraved and corrupt never materialised.

If only we’d had the intellect, then, that we have now. At least her wish came true.

A brilliantly researched film from the expert in British cinema with excellent narration by Dexter Fletcher, Respectable is a documentary that will have you smiling, frowning and seething from start to finish.

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