Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

A Harlequin Mills & Boon novel is sold somewhere in the world every four seconds. It’s a staggering statistic that underlines the extraordinary success of these often belittled books. What secret formula keeps the largely female readership coming back for more?

Julie Moggan’s HDV doc is, in truth, hardly interested in deconstructing the romantic fantasy fiction genre. Instead, she travels across four continents to bring us intimate insights into the romantic dreams and realities of a select few touched by the books.

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Gill Sanderson works hard to pen five or so of the novels a year, often observing common or garden life for inspiration, while occasionally leading writing seminars. Gill is actually pensioner Roger, a man whose work clearly moves his readers time and again, who prefers a life of solitude, clicking away at his laptop in a trailer park.

Shumita lives in India and has devoured the books for years. She’s still pining after the husband who left her for a younger woman, patiently waiting for the dreams the novels promise her to materialise. Back in Warrington, Shirley balances her flourishes of fantasy with the genuine affection and stability she has found with her husband, “man’s man” Phil. It’s far from plain sailing, though. In Japan, quietly spoken housewife Hiroko covets her M&B, while yearning to be swept off her feet by a dashing dancer with David Beckham looks. Tickling her dream, she leaves the kids with husband Seiich to have dancing lessons with the light-footed Mr Iijima. How will the polite, reserved Seiich react to the challenge? In America, meanwhile, bronzed Adonis Stephen has modelled for the covers of more than 250 M&Bs. The epitome incarnate of the readers’ lusting, he’s still having a hard time finding his one and only ‘twin flame’, in between the gym, his cleaning obsession and meal-by-meal calorie-counting.

Moggan plots a simple but enjoyable path between her subjects, from their Mills to their Boons and back again. As with any documentary, they’re at the complete mercy of the editing, but each is developed into an engaging mini-portrait. Phil’s presentation feels the most manipulated. Clearly a trenchant guy, he’s deliberately built up into a humourous caricature of a stereotype before a more measured, tragic side is revealed. It does, however, make his relationship with Shirley all the more compassionate.

The M&B connection unearths a few universal aphorisms from everyone. We’re all indulging in a bit of fantasy to help us get by, a little escapism can make you appreciate what you come back to and there’s nowt wrong with wanting a happy ending or two. Beyond that, stemming from our guilty pleasure of these people sharing their vulnerabilities, Moggan’s film is a feel-good recognition that nobody’s perfect, despite the ideal lifestyles we’re marketed. With mutual support, equality and some imagination you’ve got a good shot at happiness. No matter how often or simply it’s written, who doesn’t want that?

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2010
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A documentary about a convention for romance novel enthusiasts who dream of making the Mills & Boone story come true.
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Director: Julie Moggan

Year: 2010

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: UK

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