In the early 1960s, Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, a middle-aged school teacher, begins a campaign against what she sees as filth and smut on BBC television and radio. She and a friend start knocking on doors, circulating petitions and organizing rallies. Her nemesis during this time is Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, Director General of the BBC. He thinks she is just an old busybody who has no artistic taste and doesn't represent the mainstream of British society. Throughout his tenure, which lasted several years, he refused to see her or respond to her correspondence. She continued to campaign at what she viewed as unacceptable programming until her death in 2001. Written by
The footage of Doctor Who (1963), seen on a television screen and used to depict the violence of the series, is edited to suggest that the scene takes place at the end of the episode. In fact the scene in question takes place around halfway through Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen: Episode 4 (1967). This clip is followed by part of the opening sequence, showing the title and Patrick Troughton's face. See more »
The sign on the door of Lord Hill's office reads "Lord Charles Hill". This is incorrect as such a style implies that he was the son of a Duke or a Marquess. The sign should have read "Charles, Lord Hill", "Lord Hill of Luton" or, more likely, simply "Lord Hill". See more »
Mary Whitehouse is a Midlands housewife with a perfectly respectable family and village life. Whenever she hears the girls at school talking about premarital sex following a discussion programme on the subject on the BBC it turns out to be only one of many impacts that she perceives the BBC's output to be having on the morality and good fibre of British society. As a result of several letters, Whitehouse forms a small group to challenge the filth flooding into the homes of millions of families on a nightly basis and quickly finds her campaign getting national attention and becoming a thorn in the side of the more progressive Sir Hugh Greene, Director General of the BBC.
I'm no fan of Mary Whitehouse nor of censorship. Neither do I believe that the decline of standards in society are entirely down to the depiction thereof in the media. However this is not the same as just saying that anyone can broadcast whatever they want without any sort of checks, balances or controls in place. Many people will share these views and agree that, while adults should be treated as adults, children should be protected and unsecured flows of media cannot contain the same content as media streams that are filtered as to audience (ie ratings, timings etc). Filth also thinks this I believe and it structures its telling very well. Whitehouse is not painted as a crazy old woman at first but rather a perfectly reasonable person concerned by what she sees on television and the effect it appears to be having directly on teenagers but gradually she is revealed to be just as frustrated with changes in society and that perhaps the BBC is just a focal point for her frustrations.
The script does this really well and the delivery is gradual so that it is clear without being obvious. I did worry that this would just be a 90 minute kicking of Whitehouse but it did do her justice because it showed the good elements of her as well as the bad (of which it must be said there are more). Julie Walters didn't totally convince me in the title role but this was because she was just a little too much like Mrs Merton for me. However her performance does back up the gradual nature of the script again where it could have been easy to play her as simply a batty old lady stuck in the past and nothing more. I thought Armstrong did well alongside her while Bonneville is light and fun in his BBC role.
Filth may have a terrible title card (a bike going over a dog turd) but as a film it is actually very good. The tone is light but not to the point of easy mockery; the script allows for Whitehouse to be shown in a fair light thus good and bad are on display while the performances are mostly good and fitting the film. You my not have agreed with her or you may lament her loss, but either way Filth is a fair and entertaining film that is a job well done.
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