Tabloid shines a cold light on Joyce McKinney

Review: Tabloid. (15.) Directed by Errol Morris. Starring Joyce McKinney, Peter Tory, Kent Gavin, Jackson Shaw and Troy Williams. 88 mins ****

Though almost entirely forgotten now, for me, just the name Joyce McKinney evokes memories of Sunday morning fry-ups, the themes music to Weekend World and sneaked peeks at The News Of The World. In 1977, if it wasn’t an expose of the spreading menace of punk rock, the red top front pages featured lurid headlines about McKinney and the Manacled Mormon. This ludicrous blend of S&M, kidnapping, vice and the tabloid press is explored in the latest from esteemed documentary maker Errol Morris and it is as purely entertaining as any film you will see all year.

After an extraordinary career full of innovation and outstanding achievement, this feels like Morris is sitting back and having some fun. The film is rather basic – just a series of interviews interspersed with some archive footage. However, everybody he points a camera at has such fantastic stories to tell that nothing more is needed.

McKinney was a former beauty queen who came to England and “abducted” her former boyfriend, Mormon Kirk Anderson from outside a church, took him to a cottage in Devon chained him to the bed and had sex with him for three days. Believing that this had successfully deprogrammed him, she allowed him to go back to the church confident that, in a few days, they would return the States and get married.


You can see the appeal – she was like a benign Myra Hindley. The tabloids could dig up a ton of dirt and really have fun with it, content that this was basically a victimless crime.

Why is it called Tabloid? McKinney sees herself as a victim of the heartless, exploitative journalism and it is possible that Morris started out pushing that interpretation. Objectively, the two men from the tabloids are fairly cavalier and have little concern for the wellbeing of the people they pursued. But they are so entertaining, they win Morris over. The film is more celebration than condemnation. Probably McKinney herself talked him out of taking her plight too seriously. She comes across as a psychotic Barbara Cartland, a woman with a fanatical belief in true love. I’m not sure you can talk about a star turn in a documentary, but she is surely one.