Kinky sex in chains, kidnapping in the British countryside, an American Beauty Queen, a Mormon Missionary, and dog cloning in Korea; the ingredients for the perfect tabloid storm. No wonder it attracted the attention of Academy Award winning filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara) and is the subject of his latest documentary Tabloid. It tells the story of Joyce Bernann McKinney and Kirk Anderson, two people at the centre of a tabloid scandal in Britan in 1977 dubbed “The Case of the Manacled Mormon”.
Having had a brief relationship in the USA, Joyce McKinney followed Kirk Anderson to the UK where he was undertaking missionary work as part of his Mormon faith. Believing him to be in a cult and therefore unable to make his own decisions, Joyce took it upon herself to “free” her lover. She and her accomplice, Keith May, kidnapped Kirk at gunpoint and brought him to Devon. Keith left and Joyce kept Kirk hostage in a rented countryside cottage, stocking the fridge with his favourite foods and buying blue silk sheets to match his eyes. She believed he was impotent from his occult brainwashing and she wanted to give up her virginity to get him out of the cult. He says she raped him for three days while he was tied to the bed with rope. In the documentary she describes it as “a honeymoon”.
Kirk Anderson declined requests to be interviewed for the documentary so we are mainly treated to Joyce’s version of events. Great insight is provided by Kent Gavin, a photographer with The Daily Mirror at the time, and Peter Tory, journalist with The Express at the time. The Express cooperated with Joyce initially to get her version of events and ended up becoming her mouthpiece for her fantasy version of herself. The Mirror went on the attack, digging up as much dirt on Joyce as they could find, and dedicating front pages to her sexploits.
McKinney is extremely articulate, animated and at times very persuasive, but every now and again the mask slips. She describes her testimony in the witness stand at her trial as a performance – “I had them laughing, I had them crying…Thank God for drama school…” Later, when describing Kirk’s wife, she descends into bitchiness, saying “…the only thing she had that I didn’t have was a hundred extra pounds…” She also reeks of insincerity and well-rehearsed schtick when describing being attacked by her dog Tough Guy and her subsequent rescue by another dog Booger, who in Joyce’s words is “Christ-like” in his love for her.
At the end there is footage of Joyce reading from her as yet still unpublished book. She compares herself to Narcissus “dying of a broken heart”. In fact Narcissus died because he fell in love with his own reflection in a river and could not leave it. Unwittingly Joyce provided a rather perfect coda to this brilliant film.