Show name: A Very British Scandal
Release date: 2021
Genre: Costume/period drama
Starring: Clare Foy, Paul Bettany
Created by: Sarah Phelps
Length: 177 minutes
A Very British Scandal does what British TV does best, especially when it has a healthy eye on the global export market.
I loved every moment.
The story is based on the real-life divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in 1963.
The duke is played by Paul Bettany and this third wife, the duchess, by Claire Foy.
There is also the customary stellar supporting cast to portray both the British aristocracy at its worst and the lawyers who get drawn into representing both sides in court.
Both Paul Bettany and Claire Foy put in exceptional performances, which I expected from this immensely talented pair.
Margaret (Foy) is recently divorced from her husband, the father of her son and daughter, when she meets Ian Campbell (Bettany) on the boat train coming home to London, apparently from Paris.
He is the distant cousin in the Duke of Argyll and will soon inherit the estate and title from his bachelor relation.
Ian is a war hero who was captured and tortured by the Nazis. His current and ex-wives both describe him as having stolen his money and ruined their lives. His current wife has given him two sons.
Ian is selfish, brutally insensitive and weak. He is also capable of being very charming, though it is fairly apparent from the outset that this is deployed strategically to get what he wants.
Margaret has a very rich father, so the interest she and Ian pay each other appears to be calculated financial advancement on his side set against a mixture of innocent assumption that he loves her with a gritty determination to become a duchess on Margaret’s part.
Margaret doesn’t scruple at beginning an affair with Ian. However, compared with her subsequent machinations this pales into insignificance.
Initially, Margaret is by far the most sympathetic of the two. Her feelings for her new husband are sincere, and she resists the typically carping behaviour that we witness from other people in society.
However, Ian’s cruelty begins to bite. Margaret resents having (naively, I felt) spent so much of her father’s money on restoring Ian’s estate. He brutally tells her that she’s there to pay the bills and will lost her home after he dies and his son inherits.
In response, Margaret wages a stealth campaign to persuade Ian that his sons are not his and even attempts to recruit a friend to acquire a baby boy she can pass off as Ian’s, so that her son will inherit the dukedom.
This is truly shocking, regardless of how awful (and eventually violent) Ian’s behaviour becomes.
Matters go downhill and the final episode of three is devoted to the divorce battle.
Ian was a truly terrible person from start to finish, although some backstory is attempted in the form of his wartime trauma. He presumably had the typical dysfunctional upbringing of the aristocracy of the time. There is also his frustration at having a senior title but on money to maintain the expected lifestyle.
Margaret was complex, and she was perpetually unfaithful to her husband. She was capable of great kindness but also of actions that were beyond the pale.
This was a fantastic story, and I found myself on balance rooting more for Margaret than for Ian, who despite being a member of a privileged elite did not scruple to use violence, robbery and fraud to get his way.
I loved this show. There were so many amazing performances to support the central pair of Foy and Bettany, whose performances were astoundingly good.
Cannot recommend this historical drama highly enough.
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