Mary Millington was the girl from Dorking who became the biggest star in the British porn industry. She had no inhibitions, loved sex and was not ashamed of her body, her actions, or what she did for a living. She was the Golden Girl of porn who brought the industry to mass attention until depression and drugs took her life at the tragically young age of 33.
Born Mary Maxford – the result of her single mother’s having an affair with a married man – the young, lonely girl found the audience that she so desperately needed through modelling and pornography. The documentary about her life, Respectable: The Mary Millington Story, is keen to emphasise how liked and even respectable Millington was off-camera. Peppered with contributions from her ex-lovers, photographers, journalists and female friends/co-stars – as well as audio recordings of Millington – make it known that this was a sweet girl saw noting wrong with having sex on film for money.
Her moniker became the most recognisable name in porn – she owned sex shops, made films, did photo-shoots and was earning astronomical sums of money. Understandably for a girl who grew up poor, this fortune became her security blanket. She carried her money around in large handbags, frequently battled with authority over censorship and constantly refused to pay taxes. This was a time when hardcore pornogaphy was still illegal in the UK and Millington could not understand why everybody did not share the same views as her on the subject.
Things soon turned sour and her warmth persona masked a woman crippled by self-doubt and sadness that was momentarily relieved when she was working. Her ten-year marriage of convenience was pushed even further into the background, and her mother’s death, after a ten-year battle with cancer, sunk her into a deep darkness. This was only exacerbated by her mixing with drug culture and unsavoury characters – including Diana Dors’ hard-drinking husband Alan Lake. Neither come over too well here and their influence appears to have triggered a downward spiral of severe depression ending in 1979 when Millington was found dead with pills, vodka and a suicide note by her side.
While the documentary succeeds is to show how Millington forged such an astonishingly successful career in an industry that was not legal until twenty years later, it’s often slightly repetitive, a little long, and the conspiracy theories surrounding her death seem slightly out of place given the information presented. Yet it is still intriguing and interesting to note if – or even how – today’s attitudes to sex, pornography and the industry have changed.