Marianne Faithfull’s performance as Maggie, the ‘frumpy’ widow whose ailing grandson requires expensive hospital treatment, exudes a quiet resolve that grows through the film. She stumbles by accident into the sex trade and begins working in ‘Sexy World’ as a “hostess”, a woman who gives anonymous handjobs. At first disgusted, she soon begins to take pride in her work and adopts the alias ‘Irina Palm’ – but the separation of work from home comes crashing down as her son discovers her secret.
The confrontation between mother and son was, for me, the film’s most heartrending moment. Her son Tom embodies the typical shame that sex workers encounter all too often: heedless that Maggie earned the money for grandson Ollie, he brands her a ‘whore’ and denies her access to the boy.
This representation of stigma came out in the Q&A as contentious for the audience. For me, it felt very honest: although persecution by the public, police and media is harmful for sex workers, the more personal abuse such as abandonment by family and friends can have a long-lasting impact.