The life of actress Mary Millington appears to have been one of contradictions. Though she featured in the sex comedy Come Play With Me (1977) – one of the most successful British films ever made – it seems the one thing Mary craved most always managed to elude her. Though her name may be little known today, during the 1970s she was one of the most successful, if controversial, stars of British cinema. However despite this the one thing she appears to have wanted more than anything – to be taken as a serious actress – was one of the few things she failed to achieve. For Mary Millington was, and still is, the most successful porn actress to come out of Britain and, like it or not, stars from this less than salubrious niche genre of cinema often find it hard if not impossible to make the cross over into respectability.
The new DVD release from Simply Media, Respectable – The Mary Millington Story, lays bare Mary’s true story in a no-holds-barred manner which, like the woman herself, may shock the more unsuspecting viewer. Splicing – at times full-on – scenes from her films and stills from copious magazine spreads, with interviews from various friends, family members and lovers, as well as audio footage from Mary herself, this documentary aims to reveal the often misunderstood woman behind the myth. Interesting though it is – with oft candid and revealing input from such people as renowned character actor Dudley Sutton and former glamour model and actress Linzi Drew, as well as Mary’s onetime boyfriend publishing supremo David Sullivan – you come away with the feeling that the story told is, inevitably, biased.
Mary’s background as revealed – an illegitimate child who married young and got into pornography to earn money to help her terminally mother – paints her as the victim of unscrupulous acquaintances who introduced her in later years to the drugs which undoubtedly played their part in her final downfall. However as also pointed out Mary had a love of money and the high life as well as a personality addicted to something about which she appeared to have few hangups — sex. And ultimately – though none of the contributors to the documentary say as much – this seems to have been at the core of her problems. There is truth in the old adage that your past comes back to haunt you, and ultimately Mary would likely have had difficulty in breaking into ‘legitimate’ films considering how she started in the industry.
It seems hard to believe in today’s anything goes culture – where films with scenes bordering on the hardcore and stars with somewhat ‘questionable pasts’ are run-of-the-mill – that someone talented could not find success in mainstream cinema. But Mary was a product of an era during the late 1960s and 1970s which frowned on anything more than suggestion. Though this period saw television comedy shows like Are You Being Severed and films like the Carry On series which thrived on innuendo and double entendres, sex was only ever hinted at and the occasional flash of a bare buttock was considered to be pushing the boundaries. Mary, on-the-other-hand, had made her name in the world of pornographic magazines and under-the-counter hard core films, deemed unacceptable to a general public with attitudes which may appear prudish to many today.
Mary’s life – like the documentary itself – ended on a sad note: she died of an overdose of alcohol and pills at the age of 33 in 1979. Respectable -The Mary Millington Story none-the-less makes for a fascinating if cautionary tale of one of British cinema’s most under-appreciated stars and of the attainment of fame and (all-be-it frequently unspoken) public popularity at the cost of all else.
Respectable -The Mary Millington Story is released on DVD with a host of extras. As well as audio commentary from Sam Dunn of the British Film Institute and the documentary’s writer / director / producer Simon Sheridan, there are also trailers for the documentary and for Mary’s famous star vehicle Come Play With Me. Along with these are several interviews with amongst others Mary’s boyfriend David Sullivan and Sue Longhurst, her co-star in Come Play With Me.
Director: Simon Sheridan
Writer: Simon Sheridan
Stars: Dexter Fletcher (narrator), David Sullivan, Dudley Sutton, Pat Astley, Linzi Drew, Mary Millington (archive footage), Diana Dors (archive footage)
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