A Very British Scandal is a masterpiece of amorous cruelty (and misogyny)

A Very British Scandal is a masterpiece of amorous cruelty (and misogyny)

Available from April 21 on Tim Vision, A Very British Scandal is the heir, not only in the title but also in the production team, of A Very English Scandal, the miniseries with Hugh Grant who played the English parliamentarian Jeremy Thorpe who ended up in court for a homosexual relationship. In the same way, this new chapter - once again signed by the BBC - continues to reconstruct the scandals that have held court above all on the very hungry British tabloids, but which at the same time, beyond the bloodiest gossip, tell social implications of great interest, even through the focal lens of our contemporaneity. The ingredients are basically the same: torrid secrets, processes much more than public, existences suspended between guilt and redemption.

The protagonists of this new production are Paul Bettany, known as the Vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and above all of the recently WandaVision, and Claire Foy, the first Queen Elizabeth of The Crown. The two are very powerful in playing Ian and Margaret Campbell, Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Both from previous marriages, the two married in 1951: he became a duke almost by mistake and obsessed with a family treasure that he will never find, she is the daughter of a very wealthy entrepreneur who wants to enjoy life in all its nuances. The sexual and unconventional charge that unites them at the beginning, however, will also be their end, so much so that in 1963 they will end up in court competing for a divorce to the death, conducted with no holds barred and above all followed unscrupulously by the press more or less. scandalistica.

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The three episodes of the series reconstruct the moments that led the couple to the most irreparable crisis as in a dripping: extorted loans, counterfeit letters, scandalous photographs repeated adulterers, substance addictions, domestic violence, sensational escapes and the same sensational reunions. Foy and Bettany are surgical in portraying a woman and a man who seem to hate each other viscerally but who for a time cannot help but feed on each other's desire and anger. Their love is very sick and indeed, given that there are also real blows and other very low blows at a human level, we are careful not to use wrong words: it was not love, but it was a deviated and obsessive relationship of interdependence.

The screenwriter Sarah Phelps and the director Anne Sewitsky have a masterful care in making the world in which the two protagonists move as bright and shiny as possible: very elegant clothes, castles immersed in the most foggy Scotland, and then jewels , mink, vintage cars; and again a photograph that makes Foy's eyes and lacquered nails almost fluorescent, to enhance his stinging magnetism. If the character of Margaret is all overexposed pride, that of Ian continually curls up on himself, victim of demons that he never manages to dominate. Although other minor characters move around them (his ex-wives, her lovers ...), this miniseries is all about this couple that clings, falls apart, sticks, consoles and gets lost irretrievably.

NICK WALL Beyond the excellent technical workmanship, it is possible that many find this story too affected or inessential, so much is it rooted in a certain British culture in which class belonging, financial dignity and double standards are almost fundamental elements. It must be said that the divorce of the Argylls was something epochal and for British viewers this resonates as a rather unforgettable if controversial page in the history of their costume. There are things that, however, resonate as universal: although Margaret Campell is not portrayed here to the end in a hagiographic way, on the contrary she too has the beautiful and evident cracks of her, it is clear that she is the one who pays the highest public price. It is his private photos that end up being described in the newspapers, it is his habit of having several lovers to be accused as an attack on the sacred institution of marriage, it is his independence and his autonomy of action and thought (the same as for years they had kept her husband's comforts) to make her the face of vice.

After decades many things have changed, others have remained practically identical, above all the misogyny and the condemnation of female sexual freedom. At least A Very British Scandal saves us from having to make these observations by passing through a voyeuristic peephole. Just as that divorce was ostentatiously public, here too the whole narrative is never itchy or allusive, everything is shown to the viewer with great coldness, so that the moral judgment - if it really has to be there - is translated from the camera to the eyes of who looks. But beyond the judgments it is precisely a story like many others and yet so particular that strikes the attention, all the details that remain barely hinted at, the extraordinariness of certain tiny events, the consequences of small and continuous acts of unconsciousness or, indeed, of freedom . For the more curious there is the whole question of the Headless Man affair, linked precisely to the photos of the Duchess, which is a further cross-section of the ambiguous British costume. But this is another scandal.

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