A Very English Scandal centres around the late Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant), an MP who became the leader of the Liberal Party, but – starting in 1965 and with the story going back to 1961 – it was a time when being gay was very much frowned upon back then. Thankfully, times these days are much more enlightened. As long as you don’t bump into an idiot from Britain First.
Hugh Grant comes across as perfect and seedy as the smarmy MP, who was torn between his affections for young model Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw), and trying to bid for leadership of the Liberals… who clearly aren’t very Liberal because to look good, Thorpe will have to get married… and to a woman! Hang on, you remember when I said that times are more enlightened now? I forgot about Tim Farron and his objections to gay marriage.
Hugh and Ben are brilliant and believable in their roles, and you’re both wincing and squirming as Norman goes to stay over at Thorpe’s house – well, Thorpe’s mother’s house, is greeted, later, with the words, “Now I’m going to kiss you, and you’re going to enjoy it”, and where Thorpe tells Normal to “get on all fours” and then uses petroleum jelly to grease the… erm… wheels.
At the time this took place, the real Thorpe was just under 40, while Grant is 57. However, back then, middle-aged men often looked a lot older than they actually were. That Norman Scott was 21 at the time, while Whishaw is 37. However, while he does look noticeably older than 21, he’s a fantastic actor and can portray someone of young years brilliantly.
I’m one of the seemingly few people who didn’t go a bundle on Paddington 2, where the bear, voiced by Whishaw, went up against Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan. I was hoping for some surprises from Paddington 3… but I didn’t realise it would come on BBC1 on a Sunday evening!
This is certainly a very good start to the three-parter, and when Norman drops the mother of all bombshells, it sets things in motion for the next three episodes and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the rest pan out… of course, we know how it panned out in reality, but I mean in terms of the dynamic between Grant and Whishaw.
UPDATE 27.5.18 10pm: Episode 2 maintained the mix of dark and light tones, which did seem at odds with each other when it comes to a planned murder, but it’s all setting up for what I hope is an engaging finale.
UPDATE 3.6.18 10pm: The finale has now aired and that was absolute perfection! So good in fact, that even though I saw it a few days before broadcast, I watched it again live.
Both Whishaw and Grant were on top form and I agree with others that I hope there’s BAFTA recognition next time round. Over the years, Hugh Grant can turn in a great performance when he has the right material, and I think this is the best thing in which I’ve ever seen him. Hollywood should really give him some meaty dramas to get his teeth stuck into, and forget about those comedies of his which didn’t work out as planned. Yes, some are good, but some were terrible. Time to put those behind him and get stuck in to the drama!
A picture paints 1000 words, and the expressions on his face, throughout, told the story, themselves.
Almost as big a controversy as the true story is whether or not people should be free to discuss the ins and outs of the case and the trial while the series is ongoing.
Those who say we should, do so because it’s based on a real-life situation and so the truth will remain the same. Well, the details certainly won’t change, but not everyone knows the full story about a case that happened 40-50 years ago.
Hence, like those who say no spoilers should be given – and I always HATE spoilers – I say the spoil-sports should keep their traps shut. In fact, as I post this update after the series has ended, I *still* wouldn’t give anything away. Why? Because a lot of people will have recorded it, or will watch it on the iPlayer.
In fact, I think back to the James Hunt/Niki Lauda Formula 1 racing movie Rush, from 2013, and since I didn’t know who’d win the season between the two, that added extra tension, and right up until the final moments. Even though it’s been on TV, I still wouldn’t reveal it because not everyone has seen it, so don’t give spoilers full-stop!
Of course, at this point some wag says no spoilers should be given about the movie JFK… but then I wag my finger back at them!
While the full series has now aired, also online is The Jeremy Thorpe Scandal for 30 days, which aired after the series concluded.
A Very English Scandal isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD, but you can buy the novel in Paperback and Kindle. After broadcast, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after transmission.
Episode 1 Score: 8/10
Episode 2 Score: 8/10
Episode 3 Score: 10/10
Director: Stephen Frears
Producer: Dan Winch
Writer: Russell T Davies
Novel: John Preston
Jeremy Thorpe: Hugh Grant
Norman Scott: Ben Whishaw
Peter Bessell: Alex Jennings
Lord Arran: David Bamber
Emlyn Hooson: Jason Watkins
Ursula Thorpe: Patricia Hodge
Messenger: Chris Ashby
Sergeant at Arms: Andrew French
Norman Van De Vater: Nicholas Blane
Diana Stainton: Naomi Battrick
Leo Abse: Anthony O’Donnell
Lord Kilmuir: John Bett
Countess of Arran: Susan Wooldridge
Returning Officer: Nick Malinowski
Mike Steele: Morgan Watkins
BBC Radio Interviewer: Ben Moor
Lyn: Michelle Fox
Luke Mackenzie: Daryl McCormack
Caroline Allpass: Alice Orr-Ewing
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.