Mary Millington remains a source of great fascination to this day as one of the most photographed women of the nineteen-seventies, though more often than not those photographs would feature her without any clothes on. She was Britain's most popular, and indeed first, porn star, for some an object of fantasy, for others a pioneer of loosening restrictive censorship, but perhaps what overshadows her life is the way she died, by her own hand in tragic circumstances. The Britain of the seventies was a nation in turmoil, and it needed figures like Mary, who almost uniquely moved from hardcore to even more successful softcore, to provide distraction and entertainment, but that would come at a price, not only for the consumers of her material but for her state of mind as well...
Simon Sheridan's ode to Mary Millington was a true labour of love, a documentary that took years in the planning and was finally released some time after it had been started, but the respect for his subject showed through in every frame. As you might expect, there was a lot to pack into just under two hours, as Millington was emblematic of many things, among them the prospects a woman has in the world of pornography and how that has changed from her day to ours. It's difficult to imagine a porn star being hounded quite as much as she was in this day and age, probably because if it hasn't exactly become a respectable profession, there is a lot more acceptance than what she had to put up with.
At first, we learn that Mary had an enthusiastic attitude to sex, something that was frowned upon by the establishment and conservative tastemakers of the decade she came to prominence in, so when she dived straight into the industry and starred in Europe's most successful hardcore film reel up to that point it was as much because she thought it would be a bit of fun as for the money she was going to make. Yet the money was important, and this is the sort of light and shade that would mark out the tone of Sheridan's documentary, for the real reason she went into making such explicit efforts was to raise funds to look after her ailing mother who was the most important person in her life and whom she wished to look after for as long as she could before her mother's succumbing to cancer.
It’s a cliché to say there were tears and laughter in a tale of someone like Mary, especially when the laughter dries up in the second hour and the whole thing becomes rather grim, but Sheridan did his best to render some of the amusing aspects of the hypocrisy of the powers that be and their reaction to the permissive society, not least with Millington seemingly enjoying a huge appetite for sex she went as far as she could in seducing the biggest names in the land, all the way up to the Prime Minister Harold Wilson who hooked up with her at a Glasgow trades union conference, you may be incredulous to hear (among her other conquests were New Avenger Gareth Hunt and football commentator Jimmy Hill, though presumably not at the same time). We did get to hear from some of the people in her life at the time, some of whom were her celebrity lovers like DJ Dave Cash.
Others were those who worked with her like fellow glamour models Maureen Flanagan, Françoise Pascal and Pat Astley, all of whom deliver some excellent anecdotes in a film not wanting for remarkable stories. But it was perhaps the tension between Mary's boyfriend from her days in Dorking and porn baron David Sullivan who had her as his mistress that is most telling, the boyfriend being very bitter at the way she was used up and spat out by a particularly unforgiving industry, and Sullivan keen to distance himself from any wrongdoing. As the mood darkens, Mary's descent into drugs hell and kleptomania was not improved by persecution by the authorities, and if it seems horribly inevitable that she would end her life long before the end, then there’s a reason for that. Sheridan emphasised her rebel status, and indicated that’s what got her killed, but it was really more that deep prudery from the most powerful people that signed her death sentence as she embodied everything they hated. There was an anger here, maybe more than a celebration, and it resulted in an absorbing but ultimately hard to enjoy tale of sorrow.
[The Simply Media DVD has as extras more interviews, trailers, and an 8mm film reel featuring Mary.]