It’s a name that no doubt still sends shudders through the British media: Mary Whitehouse. In the 1960’s an unassuming housewife from Claverley, middle England, sent ripples through a nation when she was repelled by what she saw on her television screen. It was ‘utter filth’ –shoved down her throat across the dinner table by the BBC. Yes sex education, Doctor Who, The Beatles and the swinging sixties were too much for a good woman in a flowery hat. It drove her to become a champion of purity and piety.
Whitehouse was something of a Pauline Hanson forerunner (albeit a far more successful one). She represented a conservative moral majority and rallied her women’s auxiliary troops to town hall meetings and petition signing in an effort to banish temptation and degradation from her television. No doubt there are a few Home and Away purists who would love to see her trying now. The fact that four decades and a hemisphere apart we are still met with similar voices is surely ironic. Indeed, when should censorship overcome freedom of expression and choice?
Julie Walters is quite superb as the angry Whitehouse. She breathes fire and brimstone in this role, enough to make anyone want to testify. As Whitehouse’s cause gathers strength, so too does her performance. She consumes those in her path and is unrelenting in her blind passion.
Now at arms’ length from the sensitivity of actual events, the producers have a bit of a field day with this subject. The music, the fashions and the direction all take great delight in relishing this most period piece. There are even a few liberties taken at Whitehouse’s expense. The first name for her women’s lobby group, Clean Up National Television, is only abandoned when her husband points out it doesn’t stand up too well as an acronym.
Heading up the BBC is Sir Hugh Carleton Greene (Hugh Bonneville), who at first dismisses Whitehouse as a crackpot until it soon becomes obvious she will not go silently.
In a final ironic rebuff of Whitehouse, this film was produced by BBC2, a channel she held in such contempt, and screened by the ABC following one of her targets: Doctor Who. Too, too funny.
Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story airs 8:35pm Sunday on ABC1.