Mary was a glamour model-turned-porn-star who became the most famous and notorious character of the dirty mac brigade in the seventies. She was reviled in public, but beloved in private, and by some of the most powerful figures in the country. Respectable covers all aspects of the star’s life, from her humble upbringing to her rise to sex superstardom and rather unorthodox business practices.
Along the way, we hear from those who knew her, loved her, and worked with her. A key figure in Mary’s rise was David Sullivan, who made an empire out of ‘filth’ is open and emphatic about Mary, even letting his usual bravado slip on occasion. Despite the perception of her famous British films being pure porn, they were merely slightly more risqué Carry On movies; populated as much by familiar faces from TV and film as naked ladies. As such, we hear from characters such as Dudley Sutton (best known from TV’s Lovejoy) about how well they got on with Mary and were disgusted at the way the establishment treated her. Françoise Pascal (Mind Your Language) recounts working with her on Keep it Up Downstairs, and writer/director Michael Armstrong (Mark of the Devil) and the legendary Stanley Long (who passed away not long after his interview was filmed) have nothing but good memories of Mary.
It’s not all nice stories, however, as filmmaker Sheridan (who has written several definitive books on the subject of British sex films and their alumni) doesn’t shy away from the seedier and unethical side of Mary’s life too. Her friendships with Diana Dors, a film icon at the time, and her husband Alan Lake sparking a particular downwards spiral for the star.
It’s easy to label glamour and porn stars as being exploited by the industry, and while that probably does happen, it’s clear from what everyone says here that wasn’t the case for Mary. Or, indeed, the other former models who provide their insight.
For anyone with a modicum of interest in the history of the ‘other side’ of British cinema, Respectable is a must-see. The film that Sullivan financed, Come Play With Me, was, after all, the longest-running movie in the West End It’s a riveting and enlightening watch and isn’t afraid to show the tragic side (particularly when it came to Mary’s self-destruction) without being either sensationalist or over-sentimental. One can’t help feel for the poor woman, though after getting to know so much about her. Among the eye-opening revelations are her dalliances with people like sports pundit Jimmy Hill and Prime Minister Harold Wilson; a much better prospect than a dead pig’s head, surely?
A slight downside to the documentary, but put right in the extras on the DVD, is the absence of Sue Longhurst. A prolific star of the scene, her footage appears as part of a collection of other anecdotes in the special features. It’s only here that we here about her appearance in the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle, too. Eddie Tudor-Pole recounts his meeting with her and the amusing comments that came from the much-missed Irene Handl, and how he was disappointed that he didn’t get the same treatment as Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones did.
All in all, it’s a highly recommended documentary and it’s refreshing to see that the BBFC has allowed the clips that illustrate it to be passed through uncut. There’s nothing too extreme (certainly when compared to films that have been released over the past few years), but certainly more than we were used to seeing in the so-called ‘hard core’ releases back in the day. It’s a subject that has been swept under the carpet and ignored for too long and shines a new light on a very important part of British cinema history. As stars go, Mary Millington is as cult as you can get.
Extras: Trailers / More interviews / Uncut 8mm film starring Mary.RESPECTABLE - THE MARY MILLINGTON STORY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: SIMON SHERIDAN / STARRING: DEXTER FLETCHER, DAVID SULLIVAN, DUDLEY SUTTON, PAT ASTLEY, LINZI DREW, FRANÇOISE PASCAL, MICHAEL ARMSTRONG / RELEASE DATE: MAY 2ND