We’ve pretty much been spoiled for reliving the controversial Keeler-Profumo affair in recent months, not least due to the BBC’s own dramatisation of the events through the six-part TV series The Trial of Christine Keeler, which did a solid job of further diving into that certain point of our history. But that wasn’t the first time that incident was brought to our screens, that honour went to 1989’s Scandal.
The evocation of the time period is pretty much perfect in every aspect, from the lurid nightclubs to the country estates, to the government hallways and so forth. What director Michael Caton-Jones and writer Michael Thomas have managed to accomplish here is provide the contrast and breadth that’s needed to give the film its sense of scope, to capture the feel and energy of the late fifties/early sixties Britain. That level of realism is also helped enormously by the production values, thanks to production designer Simon Holland and costume designer Jane Robinson. Plaudits also go to cinematographer Mike Molloy and editor Angus Newton for providing that “fly on the wall” approach to the film, making us feel like we are peeping behind the curtain of the events and seeing just what the characters are going through.
This film, more than anything, is a simple character study; a study of people caught up in this tumultuous affair that destroyed the sitting British government by accident more than by design. This film is an examination of the world of sex, alcohol, friendship and companionship, and most of all, hypocrisy. The cast help bring these historic figures to life, and its two principal leads completely sell this film. The late, great John Hurt gives one of the best performances as the fun-loving yet tragic osteopath/playboy Stephen Ward while Joanne Whalley is simply mesmerising as the infamous Christine Keeler, nailing the subtle nuances and complexities of her character. Both Hurt and Whalley are amazing at portraying two people who go from finding close friendship in one another and having the time of their lives before they are both brought to their absolute worst moments by the end.
Scandal is a fine example of taking a part of history that’s notoriously controversial and bringing it to life on screen. It’s a fascinating journey into a rabbit hole of sex and hypocrisy that’s helped enormously by its first-rate direction, script, production values and cast. More importantly, it’s also about the human cost of that particular scandal and told in a hauntingly realistic and truthful manner.
Dir: Michael Caton-Jones
Scr: Michael Thomas
Cast: John Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Ian McKellen, Bridget Fonda, Roland Gift, Jeroen Krabbé
Prd: Stephen Woolley
DOP: Mike Molley
Music: Carl Davis
Run time: 115 mins
Scandal is out now on Blu-Ray on Feb 24th.