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I never did have much truck with Mary Whitehouse. In the early days her
heart was probably in the right place, bless her. She saw the onslaught
of the permissive society as a catastrophe for the moral fibre of the
nation while homosexuality and pre-martial sex were the start of the
slippery slope to hellfire and damnation. She was right, to the
teeniest, weeniest degree, about what our children should or should not
be exposed to and that full frontal nudity and sodomy might do more
than frighten the horses when we are about to sit down to our evening
meal. But she was also a bigot, the narrowness of whose vision would
have been awesome were it not so awesomely worrying. And she never
listened; never took on board the opinion of anyone but herself.
"Filth" starts off portraying her as a sympathetic, matronly type, a school mistress with a genuine affection for her students, and a caring wife and mother, quite prepared to enjoy a bit of the old heave-ho herself in the sanctity of the marriage bed. But the moment television started to reflect the real world as it was in the early sixties, (heaving and ho-ing outside the marriage bed, cussing and swearing on every street corner), Mary had apoplexy and demanded that Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, Director General of the BBC, call a halt to it.
Now I am not knocking morality. There is right and there is wrong and there is the expression of both but there is also freedom of speech; there are often two sides of almost every story and there's nowt as queer as folk, as they say. Mary simply didn't see it that way. She didn't so much quote the Bible as rewrite it in her own words. Interestingly, "Filth" began by making her sympathetic, (as I've said, her heart was in the right place), and making Carleton Greene the villain of the piece, (sexist, patronizing, condescending, arrogant, you name it), but as Mary's fame grew, (she came to love the limelight, the attention and above all, the power she wielded), our sympathies shifted to the poor, put-upon Greene, driven close to bonkers by this needling, insidious little woman.
Were it not for the fact that she strove to silence all forms of expression with which she didn't agree, destroying reputations and careers as she went, she might just have been considered another eccentric and I worried that Julie Walters would play her as an extension of her eccentric persona's such as Mrs Overall. However, I really ought to have had more faith in Walters who is one of our finest actresses and who is outstanding here. (The fact that she made me almost like Mary is testimony to that). Hugh Bonneville, too, had a lot to do with making Greene change from arrogant snob to crusader to victim in the space of ninety minutes. (The film only concentrates on the period of the 'feud' between Whitehouse and Greene).
Perhaps the writing could have been sharper at times, though the period was beautifully delineated from the outset. This was indeed a vanished England of simplicity and innocence that made you wonder, at least initially, if Mrs. W might not have been right about the tide of 'filth' that was coming down the tube to change it all. But as you watched her change from village school-ma-rm to Mussolini in a twin-set and pearls, you realized it wasn't the 'filth' was was the problem but the knight in very tarnished armour.
Mary Whitehouse played by the divine Julie Walters CBE could have been silly, over-reacting, or just a caricature of a woman who fought and won in her own mind. The film is quite a tribute to a woman who caused a lot of trouble in the 1960s regarding television content. Whitehouse is a schoolteacher, mother, and wife to Ernest. They live not in London but in Wolverhampton and she is concerned by the explosion of sexuality on television through the BBC which is national television. She gathers and recruits quite easily mostly housewives who have the same concern. All she wants is some time with the director of the BBC which was Sir Hugh Carleton Greene who is portrayed a chauvinistic boss and unlikely character. Whitehouse has her moments like when she telephones the BBC regarding a sketch spoofing her husband involved in a car accident as crossing the line. There is more to it. Despite all of the hatred and vulgarity in the letters and telephone calls, Whitehouse is persistent in trying to clean up the filth in national television.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is a strange experience, seeing family members being portrayed by actors, and events for which one has a well-established store of mental pictures being re-presented through the director's eyes. It was never going to be entertaining. It was hard to see Ernest's trauma (he never fully recovered) of the road suicide being played out for a casual audience. After a lifetime of watching vitriolic attacks on Mary, we inevitably found ourselves watching and waiting for the 'catch'. But in general, the play was kind to Mary and hard on Greene, and I can see that the tussle between them is a perfect dramatic vehicle for a romp through the prejudices of the baby boomer generation, given spice by the addition of a relatively serious take on Mary's aims which the BBC was so reluctant to afford her at the time. I can't comment on the production values, which had at the start a bit of an 'acorn antiques' flavour. The bicycle-riding, dowdy, local gossipy lady is a Walters 'character' which bears little relationship to Mary's life or character. Her moment of snapping and snarling at the kissing couple in the car was absolutely unlike her. The portrayal of the three abstentious sons at the party (the eldest was married and had long left home by then, and wasn't there) was an irritating but unimportant misrepresentation. Mary's seriousness of intention, however, does emerge when portrayed on the platform, and some of her 'charisma' also is conveyed. The main flaw is the total omission of the fact that Mary was portrayed as an art teacher. Yes, she was an art teacher, but had been given responsibility for moral and sex education in the school, at a time when such an activity had no road map. It was a pioneering role which she had been asked to play. It was concerns arising from serious, timetabled discussion which drove her to deal with pressures on the kids from the outside world, rather than a personal, (Intrusive?) interest in the lives of her pupils. This has the effect of emphasising the common perception that she was a self-appointed moral guardian; at the start, she was not!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mary Whitehouse, who campaigned tirelessly to rid TV and cinema of the type of stuff I thrive on, is given a fair shake in "Filth - The Mary Whitehouse Story". Julie Walters, of "Educating Rita" fame, plays the woman as a well-meaning mother and educator who became increasingly appalled by any entertainment that didn't mesh with her puritanical take on life. Outraged by the new sexual permissiveness of the 60's, as depicted by the BBC, she waged a decades-long campaign that successfully put the brakes on much of what would now be considered typical TV fare for teenagers and adults. Most annoying aspect of this woman was that stupid people (plenty of them) bought into her moralistic hogwash and happily signed her petitions to ban or restrict anything she deemed corrupting; even "Dr. Who" did not escape her criticism. Despite what could have been a dour, hateful piece, there is a comical edge to "Filth..."that is represented by Mary's ongoing battle with the BBC's Sir Hugh Greene (Hugh Bonneville), a fellow I found immensely likable for his blatant rudeness, lechery, and foul-mouthery, not to mention his undying desire to deflect the missiles of censorship. Bonneville is great as the larger-than-life Greene and adds great bounce to the drama. The world is still filled with Mary Whitehouses who want to censor our movies, ban the filth we love so much on the internet, and launch witch hunts and obscenity trials ("Good Morning, Paul Little!") against unsuspecting artists. The difference between today's Mary Whitehouses and the original is that Mary, a card-cartrying prude, was at least sincere and consistent in her moral outrage. Today's opponents of "filth" are called politicians and preachers, and their outrage is fueled by their lust for votes, not a "better" world.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very well-made, well-acted film which gives an enjoyable
introduction to the Mary Whitehouse phenomenon. While showing her point
of view it also manages to satirise her blinkered self-righteousness.
Her pretty little English village, nestling in green pastures, is home
to at least one wife-beater and a gay teenage couple; Mrs W is so
concerned with the evils of television she fails to see the real world
around her, possibly a comment on what TV does to us all.
I have to admit that after over thirty years of being told what I should and should not see on TV and films (she started a Rambo scare in the 80's, the world would be filled with young men programmed to become indiscriminate killers after watching Sly Stallone) I was actually relieved when the woman finally left us in 2001. For me, she epitomised all I detest about petty-minded interference in other people's lives. Her main target - the BBC - is funded by *all* tax-payers and licence holders, it does not exist to serve the favoured few who know what is best for everyone else.
Note also the argument these people always use: the effect on other people, never themselves; they are right-thinking and incorruptible but the rest of us are depraved children who cannot be trusted to be exposed to adult issues and behaviour; freedom of expression must be reserved for enlightened members of society.
In the event Whitehouse had no influence at all on the development of popular culture in Britain. All she did was stoke a debate which could be trotted out every so often and give her some media exposure (Julie Walters gets her sweet condescending smile off to a T). On the evidence of this film, all she achieved was the destruction of a dynamic and creative head of the BBC who, for all his faults, had what Whitehouse totally lacked - a zest for life - whether it took the form of a game of cricket or a pretty secretary.
This account of the transformation of an ordinary suburban mum and art
teacher into a controversial national figure is a lot better than it
might have been. Julie Walters as Mary captures her ordinariness and
her determination. She is much helped by Alun Armstrong's subtle
performance as Mary's supportive if sometime baffled husband Ernest.
Hugh Bonneville though at times rather Basil Fawlty-ish as the
progressive but arrogant BBC director-general Hugh Greene provides an
admirable foil (they never actually meet).
Mary Whitehouse started her campaign to clean up television (originally unfortunately named "Clean Up National Television") after seeing a rather dull discussion program on pre-marital sex broadcast by the BBC in the early evening. Despite widespread opposition she developed a taste for being in the public eye, and was an active promoter of TV censorship for the next 30 years. The film credits her with forcing Greene's resignation, though others claim the real issue was Greene's failure to get along with Lord Hill, the oleaginous BBC chairman after 1967. Certainly Greene's philosophy on broadcasting was completely opposed to Mary's, and it has to be said that it was partly due to her that the BBC became less adventurous in the face of her attacks, some of which were downright silly, the attacks on "Dr Who" and the Beatles's lyrics for example. With all respect to her son Richard, who has a review on this page, she may have been serious and sincere, but she represented and aroused the forces of bigotry, ignorance and prejudice. The worst that can be said of Greene is that he did not handle her very well. Later directors-general, including his immediate successor Charles Curran were better at it. Even so she had a chilling effect on British television.
This program goes fairly easy on Mary and does not fail to point out that Greene and other opponents often over-reacted. She had imitators elsewhere, Patricia Bartlett in New Zealand and Fred Nile in Australia for example, and of course the US is full of anti-smut crusaders. Unlike the US, Britain's media is rather centralized the BBC had a monopoly in TV until 1956 and there was a duopoly with ITV until the 1980s and this gave someone like Mary unwonted influence. The atmosphere of the sixties is wonderfully re-created and the BBC has to be congratulated for its even-handed telling of a story very painful to some broadcasters.
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning
** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
Early sixties Britain is still a fairly innocent place and Mary Whitehouse (Julie Walters), a suburban local art teacher and church-goer, lives a dainty little English existence in her quiet, dainty little Midlands village. But she becomes outraged by what she sees as declining standards on British TV, with more regular, casual bad language, sex talk and violence. The film portrays her real life crusade to 'clean up TV', bringing her into conflict with Hugh Greene (Hugh Bonneville) the new Programmes Commissioner at the BBC, who's moving with the times more and showing programmes more suited to the changing social attitudes.
It's interesting to note what a puritanical society we used to be not really so long ago, especially when we comment on the Americans and their prudish standards they still have on mainstream TV. Maybe it's the age I've been raised in but I've always been one for freedom of expression and mature adults being allowed to see what they want, so Mary Whitehouse was never a character that was going to agree with me. But even if you think her campaigns were misguided, you have to admire her determination and conviction of her will, which this very well made TV drama has portrayed.
The main thing that drives it is two superb lead performances. In the title role, Walters gives it her all as the quaint English lady with an unwavering moral compass who is forced to come to terms with society's changing ideals, attitudes, morals and beliefs while leading her campaign and similarly Bonneville is also great as the arrogant TV chief who bites off more than he can chew with the little guy.
Both the characters are very well written too, along with the script, which really gets you involved with the story, which is engaging and enthralling but refreshingly humorous, too, although in a manner risqué enough, ironically, to get Mrs Whitehouse up in arms about. ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Filth" just happen to come on after another show - I didn't intend to
watch it, but the opening song contrasting with the prim-looking lady
on the bicycle so intrigued me that I ended up watching, and I'm glad I
This is a story about Mary Whitehouse, a mother, wife and school teacher, who is outraged by the Director General of the BBC's (Sir Hugh Carleton Greene)new programming. It's the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, and the "new morality," is making its way onto TV during teatime, and Mary Whitehouse will have none of it.
This is a very successful television movie in that every main character was three-dimensional. Mary starts out as a sympathetic character who eventually turns into a Master Censor as she sends letters to the beleaguered Sir Hugh complaining about two unkind characters in a children's television program.
Sir Hugh also takes a turn, as he starts out an arrogant elitist who won't even meet with Mary (a "nutter") to a defender of free speech who simply can't withstand her repeated assaults.
Beautifully told, acted and cleverly directed, "Filth" is well worth a watch.
Although Julie Walters looks a bit like Caroline Aherne as her Mrs Merton character in quite a few scenes this is quite a true and very fair portrayal of Mrs Whitehouse. Whatever you think of her prudery and her lack of humour you actually feel sympathetic to her when she gets heckled at meetings and gets abusive letters and phonecalls. It's fair to say that the permissive society had an inpermissive nature, if you get my meaning. She was also not a lady to mess with and you said unfavourable things about her at your peril. The film mentions her successful defamation actions. It's fair to say that if you were up against Mrs Whitehouse in court your chances of success were slim. The end credits mention Whitehouse v Lemon (aka The Gay News Case) which was very much on the Pythons' minds when they made The Life of Brian. To her credit she was one of the first people to campaign against child pornography but she turned herself into a figure of fun by finding fault with Dr Who and Pinky & Perky. I wondered how on earth was Pinky & Perky corruptive? Well, I suppose it was. It inspired many 60s and 70s kids to play LPs at 78rpm and I think that might have been bad for the records. Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene is not portrayed favourably. He is shown to be arrogant, smug, coarse, foul-mouthed and lecherous. I have no idea what he was like as a person so I can't judge how fair a portrayal this was. Julie Walters these days is of course best known as Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films and I imagined a scene where Sir Hugh gets a howler from Mary Whitehouse. The letter gets delivered by owl on his desk and then shouts, in Julie Walters' voice, "Hugh Carleton-Greene, I am absolutely disgusted" and then goes on to complain about the number of bloodys in Till Death Us Do Part, Dr Who having nightmare qualities etc and what kind of example certain programmes are to the young people of the country and then goes on in the gentler "Oh and Ginny dear" voice to say "Oh and last Sunday's Songs of Praise was lovely", then blowing a raspberry and self-shredding. Mrs Whitehouse died the year the first Harry Potter film came out. It's fair to say she'd have some criticisms to make of Harry Potter.
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