In the early 1960s, Mrs. Mary Whitehouse (Dame Julie Walters), 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 (Hugh Bonneville), 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, was edited to suggest that the scene takes place at the end of the episode. In fact, the scene in question took place around halfway through Doctor Who (1963) season five, episode four, "The Tomb of the Cybermen Episode 4". This clip was followed by part of the opening sequence, showing the title and Patrick Troughton's face. See more »
The Pink Floyd song "Pigs (Three Different Ones)", in which Mary Whitehouse is scolded, is playing over a scene that takes place in the mid-60s, more than a decade before the song's 1977 release. See more »
[Mary Whitehouse has just sent a supposedly obscene script to the Postmaster General who has ordered an episode of Swizzlewick which lampoons her to be pulled mid-way through its broadcast. Sir Hugh is fuming]
Sir Hugh Carleton Greene:
Who? Who? I want the traitor flushed out. I want strict controls of all scripts issued to anyone and everyone - anywhere and everywhere. Contrive some memo to that effect.
Yes, Sir Hugh.
Sir Hugh Carleton Greene:
And! And! I am issuing a directive with immediate effect. No-one connected to the Corporation is to have ...
[...] See more »
Closing credits: "Mary continued to protest until her death in 2001, bringing high-profile cases against Gay News, the Sex Pistols, and The National Theatre, for blasphemy, obscenity and simulated sodomy. She also forced 'Top of the Pops' to transmit Chuck Berry's 'My Ding-A-Ling' with illustrations. These made it clear the ding-a-ling was a toy with bells, not a penis." See more »
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.
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