Respectable – The Mary Millington Story, 2016
Directed by Simon Sheridan.
Starring Dexter Fletcher, David Sullivan, Linzi Drew, Jess Conrad, Dudley Sutton, Colin Wills and Pat Astley.
Documentary chronicling the life of ‘70s porn star Mary Millington, who died tragically young at the age of 33 in 1979.
The name Mary Millington may not mean much to the general public these days but back in the 1970s the woman born Mary Quilter in 1945 was very much in the public eye thanks to her status as Britain’s most famous sex symbol and porn star. Helping to bring porn to the mainstream during a time when the sale and distribution of hardcore material was illegal, Mary Millington started out as a saucy pin-up girl before moving into hardcore pornography and becoming a popular softcore starlet before succumbing to her demons in 1979 aged just 33, and this film details her life with contributions from family members (still not sure how an only child manages to have a niece and nephew), former lovers and colleagues who seemed to be alongside her for most of her professional life.
As documentaries go, Respectable – The Mary Millington Story succeeds in providing a social context and understanding of the times that helps to put into perspective the story being told but at 109 minutes long the film feels really stretched out, the middle section not really providing anything other than repeated stories of Mary’s sex shops being raided and comments about how perfect her figure was despite her 4’ 11” height. Mary’s affair with then-serving Prime Minister Harold Wilson is briefly mentioned, and although details are bound to be a bit sketchy one gets the feeling that there is a lot more to that particular incident than what we get here. Much like Mary’s decline after discovering cocaine and mixing with the likes of ‘50s pin-up Diana Dors and her heavy-drinking husband Alan Lake – neither of whom came off very well here – the film loses focus pretty quickly and tries to get itself back on track to document Mary’s death by suggesting a conspiracy theory, which some of the speakers allude to, but the lack of any evidence other than the fact that the teetotal Mary died of a booze-and-pills cocktail doesn’t really give that particular theory any legs.
But despite the unnecessary length and unsubstantiated stories surrounding her death, Respectable – The Mary Millington Story does show all sides of Mary’s complex character and paints a picture of a tragic young woman unable to cope with the dark side of fame and who ultimately just wanted to be accepted for what she was, and that was somebody not afraid to shake things up and who was not embarrassed or ashamed by what she did for a living. Actor Dexter Fletcher’s easy-going narration helps frame each section of Mary’s life without intruding over the contributors and, of course, the clips from several of Mary’s porno films provide plenty of visual aids in case the audio descriptions aren’t enough. Like any documentary, if you’ve a keen interest in the subject then this’ll be a must-see but if 1970s British pornography and a tale of a tragic life don’t press your buttons then this well-made but overlong film may not be the best introduction.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★