TV series review: A Very English Scandal
by Bénédicte Prot
- This three-part series, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw, virtuously brings to life a scandal that shook the English establishment back in the 1970s
One month after being broadcast on BBC One in the UK, the 3x60 minute mini-series, A Very English Scandal – which marks the series debut of two-time Oscar nominated British filmmaker Stephen Frears (The Grifters, 1990, The Queen [+see also:
interview: Andy Harries
interview: Stephen Frears
film profile], 2006) – made its world premiere on Amazon Prime. The first episode was also screened at Fontainebleau during the opening night of season 7 of Série Series festival (26 to 28 June), in the presence of director and producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins (EastEnders) from Blueprint Television.
The series, which BAFTA-winning scriptwriter (for Doctor Who) Russell T. Davies adapted from John Preston’seponymous book, revisits a political-sexual scandal that shook theestablishment in the 1970s and resulted in the political downfall of the leader of the Liberal Party Jeremy Thorpe (played by Hugh Grant) following Norman Scott's claims (Ben Whishaw) that he had a homosexual relationship with him in the 1960s (before a law was passed in 1967 decriminalising homosexual acts) before attempting to have him killed.
From the very beginning of the first episode of A Very English Scandal, you can see that Frears has chosen to adopt the confined aesthetic that is oh-so characteristic of BBC television series. However, the old-fashioned theatricality and stagnant conspiracy-filled London setting (interspersed with escapades in the green English countryside) are perfectly suited to the subject and the evocation of the forbidden act, with its windowless offices and gentlemen's clubs that virtually bleed the dust of old traditions, and from the house of lovers to the House of Commons and the courts. One might suspect that the director of Prick Up Your Ears delighted himself in playing with these devices - which are also reminiscent of the setting of Oscar Wilde’s trial, which took place 80 years prior to the Thorpe Affair.
This jubilation in tone is reflected in the actors' fantastic performances. Everyone obviously took great pleasure in caricaturing the posh accent of the English upper classes, and the conduct that goes with it. Alex Jennings’ stilted and troubled performance (a genre he’s well accustomed to, given his recurring characters in The Crown and Victoria) is very convincing in the role of Thorpe's confidant/protector, but the grand prix goes to the leading duo: Hugh Grant, whose very face moves differently in order to create the disdain and self-importance of his abject character, andBen Whishaw, perfectly unbearable in his role as a fragile little thing and persecuted victim. The suspense in the final moment of episode one promises for a drama that will certainly honour the real-life adventures of the case which inspired it.
(Translated from French)
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