Director: Simon Sheridan
Script: Simon Sheridan
Narrated by: Dexter Fletcher
Running time: 110 minutes
Respectable – The Mary Millington Story is a documentary which pretty much does what it says on the tin, namely documents model and actress Mary Millington’s life story right from her humble beginnings in Dorking in 1945, up until her premature death, aged just 33 years of age, in 1979.
Mary became Britain’s biggest female star in the 1970s, and was also Great Britain’s first proper porn star, after a meteoric rise to fame through her modelling in adult magazines such as ‘Playbirds’ and by appearing in a variety of home-grown adult sex comedies such as Eskimo Nell, Private Pleasures, Private: Whitehouse, Come Play with Me, and The Playbirds. She also became a prominent society girl and there were rumours that she even took the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, to her bed.
As with many porn actresses Mary was a complex character who married too young, became a serial adulterer, and an escort, and got sucked into the rather sleazy adult entertainment business. Within this murky milieu she got exploited and later spat out with fairly predictable results – rabid unhappiness, eventually leading to her possible suicide. I add the word ‘possible’ there as there are some conspiracy theorists (including some of her family and friends) who believe that her, by then, unloved husband may have had a hand in her death; however this is merely speculation and since the filmmaker was unable to get an interview with her rather put-upon husband to provide his side of the story, I shall leave that squarely in the idea bin, marked ‘rumour’!
Always the attention seeker the 4’ 11” Mary Maxstead came 14th in a Miss Dorking beauty pageant, lost her virginity aged 14, married a local butcher at 18, and later found herself juggling looking after her ill mother with a burgeoning modelling career. Mary often said that she wasn’t a fan of her own face, but quite liked her body, although that didn’t stop her having a boob job back when such things were quite unusual. While she did okay with normal modelling assignments she found there was more money to be made in the sphere of erotic modelling and since she was very money orientated she seized the chance to increase her pay packet.
She started having an affair with British porn king David Sullivan, who quickly made her his go-to cover girl on numerous occasions for a number of top-shelf publications. It was around this time when Mary Whitehouse and her ultra conservative pressure group were starting to gain traction in the media and she targeted Mary time and time again in her many tirades about the decline of Western civilisation through entertainment. As she moved into doing porn films Mary changed her surname to Millington and capitalised on her new found fame by opening her own sex shop in London, which she was very hands-on with, although she had a poor relationship with the local police, hence was frequently getting raided – I guess she wasn’t giving them enough freebies!
As her notoriety increased so did her publicity stunts. For example, she once posed in front of No 10 Downing Street topless and, when the police tried to confiscate the roll of film from the shoot, she hid it up her vagina! Sadly, in between all the hijinks Mary was showing signs of a split personality and seemed to thrive on adrenaline, often shop-lifting, just for kicks, even though she could easily afford to pay for the items that she’d stolen. Perhaps most confusing, here was a woman who craved attention, often sexually, but what she seemed to really want was just some warmth and affection from other trusted human beings, particularly after the death of her mum, who died of cancer after a long illness.
Simon Sheridan’s heart-felt documentary documents all this and much more with a series of talking heads interviews and lots of private and stock footage from that time period. And while it does sometimes get a bit repetitive with its format it’s never less than interesting and director Sheridan is to be commended for what must have involved him putting in a lot of research into his chosen subject matter.
Technically the documentary is well made and provides its viewers with a helpful grounding in the history of UK blue movies from their 8mm days onwards, and also into the porn magazine industry as it was back in the sixties and seventies. The matter-of-fact interviews make the sometimes rather awkward subject matter more digestible, and the narrative is colourfully accompanied by plenty of photos and stills from the modelling shoots and films being discussed. Plus there are a few short clips from several of the films in question, and we even get to see a very brief shot of an erect penis at one point… I suspect the censors must have missed that one!
Personally, I’m not a big fan of modern-day porn (quite frankly it’s dull), but I do find pornography from the 70s quite interesting (and funny) and I enjoyed chuckling through a few of the film clips shown here.
Even if erotica isn’t of particular interest to you, I’d recommend watching this documentary since, at its core, it’s really about the ever fragile human condition, and isn’t that always fascinating…
Simply Media are distributing Respectable – The Mary Millington Story on DVD. Extras on the disc include:
Confessions from the Dave Sullivan Affair (10 mins) – Dave talks about Come Play with Me, which he funded. Mr Sullivan comes across very well and also as having a good sense of humour. Additionally, he also comes across as someone who actually really did care about Mary and says he couldn’t bear going to the funeral.
Keep it up Sue! In conversation with Sue Longhurst (7 mins) – Straight actress Sue Longhurst talks about how she first met Mary and about her working relationship with her. Apparently she almost choked on coleslaw during the Come Play with Me shoot!
Sex Talk with Ed Tudor-Pole (8 mins) – punk singer Tudor-Pole talks about porn and about how he thought Millington died from not having enough love in the end. Somewhat surprisingly he also says he thought Mary Whitehouse had good intentions, but was mainly in the wrong with how she went about things.
Party Pieces (11 mins) – A silent 8 mm sex film from 1974, which Respectable’s editor, Jim Groom, has restored, although that doesn’t mean it’s any good. The film is only really of note because it features Mary making out at a party and then joining a couple for fun and physical frolics.
Come Play with Me original trailer (2.5 mins) – We see lots of Harrison Marks larking around.
Respectable teaser trailer (30 secs)
Audio commentary with the director Simon Sheridan discussing his film with Sam Dunn from the British Film Institute (BFI)