A Very English Scandal

It’s taken a surprisingly long time for postwar Britain’s most famous bit of political dirty linen to get an airing on TV, but with Russell T Davies on script duties, Stephen Frears directing and Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw leading the cast, it definitely feels like all the right stars have aligned for A Very English Scandal.

Grant is perfect casting as Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal leader whose career came crashing down when he was accused (and then acquitted) of conspiring to murder his former lover, Norman Scott.

In the House, we saw Thorpe mounting a robust defence of (relevancy alert!) the rights of Commonwealth citizens, and making a case for Britain in Europe. But he was also ruthlessly ambitious, and determined to keep a lid on what he euphemistically called his “musical” side at any cost.

With his Brylcreemed side parting and hollow cheeks, Grant offers the perfect mix of rakish charm and predatory sleaze. As Scott, a vulnerable man with a history of mental illness, Whishaw initially appears as sweet and innocent as Paddington (in whose guise he last faced off against Grant), but he’s also vain and manipulative – even if his blackmail plot appears more the result of desperation than cunning. As an aside, Whishaw’s first appearance – wet, topless, and in slow motion – looks set to become 2018’s undisputed ‘Poldark scything’ moment.

Russell T Davies cracks through the story at his trademark rising trot – condensing first introductions, seduction, relationship, break-up and blackmail into the first 25 minutes – and, as ever, is quick to find the humour in the tragedy. (One sequence, covering Thorpe’s attempts to recover a suitcase full of smoking gun evidence, was pure farce.)

But there’s grit in the oyster, too. Davies, who recently declared that ‘living as a gay man is a political act’, also interrogates the culture of fear and shame that forced people to hide their relationships, with one character describing those who’d taken their own lives as having been ‘murdered by the laws of the land’.

The perfect marriage of writer and subject, it adds up to a very English triumph.


TV extra:

 

Football’s 47 Best Worst Songs

Bob Mortimer’s witty rundown of footie’s chart wins (World in Motion, 3 Lions) and spectacular own goals (Hoddle and Waddle’s Diamond Lights, Andy Cole’s brief R&B ‘career’) fielded an all-star line-up of talking heads, and plenty of archive footage of tone-deaf soccer stars clutching the cans in the studio. John Barnes also treated us to an encore performance of his legendary rap, while Ossie Ardiles (and grandkids) sang of playing ‘in the cup for Totting-ham’. A nostalgic treat.

 

Humans

Channel 4’s dystopian sci-fi drama has evolved from its initial ‘Pinocchio 2.0’ premise into an ever-more forensic examination of such pressing real-life issues as terrorism, people trafficking, civil unrest, identity politics and the refugee crisis. Ultimately, it’s about the value we place on different forms of life, but if that sounds dull and worthy, it’s anything but. If anything, it’s actually getting better, driven by strong scripts and a fine (and exceptionally handsome) cast.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 24, 2018

(c) Waitrose Weekend