Apparently, the English love A Very British Scandal. It must be the weather. Have they little else to do? A couple of years ago, they foisted A Very English Scandal upon us. Within the last two weeks, we got Anatomy of a Scandal. Enough, already! I will admit that the presence of Claire Foy (The Crown) made resistance futile, unlike Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal. Perhaps it is the years behind the Bench that make me a bit jaded. Watching the deterioration of a marriage is just not that fun.
“There is something delicious about watching people tear each other to shreds . . . ” says writer Sarah Phelps. There is also something most voyeuristic about it. The death spiral is so sad, especially as one is reminded of the love that the two once had for each other. In 1930, at age 17, Margaret Whigham, is debutante of the year. Seventeen years later, she’s divorced with three children. Still, she’s followed by the paparazzi of her day, known for her fashion and glamour.
As fate would have it, Margaret soon falls under the spell of Captain Ian Campbell, soon to be the 11th Duke of Argyll (think Argyll socks). She has money; he has a dilapidated castle. He has a taste for booze, pills, violence, and other women. She “likes sex, and she’s good at it.” It’s a union made in Hell. I give A Very British Scandal 3.5 Gavels and it receives a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.0/10 IMDb score.
After the 1951 wedding, Margaret’s father loaned Ian vast sums of money to raise a Spanish galleon. King James II gave salvage rights to the Campbell family. The endeavor failed. Margaret also poured money into Inveraray Castle. “Pay the bills; it’s what you’re for,” he demanded. At the grand celebration of the restoration, Ian invites his ex-wife, the mother of his two sons. One of the two will inherit the estate. “What happens to me when you die? What happens to the home I built,” she asks? “He likes his mother very much,” Ian sneers. The forgeries, burglaries, assaults, and affairs will soon become the fodder of the press.
A lavish production, Claire Foy‘s prim and proper Queen Elizabeth would disapprove of the free-wheeling Margaret Campbell. Still, the facial expressions and the body language of the Queen are unmistakably in Margaret. It’s easy to loathe Paul Bettany (WandaVision) as Ian. As wife #1 puts it, “he took everything I had, then everything Louise had, and when your money runs out, the effort to remove you will begin in earnest.”
At the end of the salacious divorce trial, the judge takes three hours and ten minutes to deliver his decision, concluding that Margaret is promiscuous, wholly immoral. That’s about the same length of this three-part series on Amazon Prime. Purportedly, the British press publicly shame a woman for the first time.
“Mr. Bettany and Ms. Foy are given a wealth of snarky dialogue to deliver as the Argyll-Argyll romance goes the way of the Spanish Armada, and director Anne Sewitsky breaks free of the customary BBC dramaturgy.” Wall Street Journal
“A Very British Scandal is a dull, lifeless retelling that wants very badly to say something but delivers little more than banal cruelty from the extremely wealth.” Paste Magazine
The viewer will find it difficult to give much sympathy to either of these characters. Without that emotional attachment, A Very British Scandal flounders.