Tabloid: Sex in Chains (Errol Morris, 2010)

A documentary about a notorious press case from the late 1970’s, in which a young Mormon was allegedly kidnapped and kept as a “sex slave” in Cornwall. The documentary doesn’t overtly tell us exactly what happened, since what ocurred is still disputed, instead allowing the participants tell their stories and letting us judge for ourselves though there is a definite authorial voice and I feel that there are certain conclusions we are expected to reach.

Joyce McKinney doesn’t dispute that she kidnapped Kirk Anderson, though she insists that he had been ‘brainwashed’ by his church into leaving her and that almost everything they did was completely consensual. It isn’t at all clear that she is lying about this, or that she is mistaken, though it does become more and more clear that her recollections, indeed her entire idea about her self and the way the world has treated her, are self-justifying to the degree of delusional. She certainly was picked over by the tabloids, representatives of which appear here utterly without remorse for the way they stitched up Joyce and the other participants in order to maximise the, already heady, sensationalism of the story but she gave them plenty of ammunition with which to work.

Joyce’s story takes another, really bizarre, turn which is where it becomes clear that, regardless of her sanity when these events occurred, we can be certain that it is pretty compromised now; this is both hilarious and sad, which describes many of the elements of this film throughout. It is stated many times that this was an absolutely huge story and that it was the talking point of everyone in Britain at the time. I was in my early – mid teens and don’t recall this at all – this could be failing memory or it could be confirmation bias on the part of the journalists taking part.

One thought remains – this was made before the Leveson inquiry investigating Press behaviour. If it had been made now, I wonder if the slant of the film could have remained so focussed on the events of the kidnapping and whether it was crime or love affair, or whether it would have necessarily focussed much more on the behaviour of the press in the reporting of it.


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