UK TV review: A Very British Scandal
Ivan Radford | On 26, Dec 2021
A Very British Scandal premieres at 9pm on BBC One on Boxing Day, with all three episodes available at once on BBC iPlayer.
Claire Foy and Paul Bettany are two actors who are good enough to make you tune into something just to watch them. After Foy’s majestic turn in The Crown and Bettany dazzling performance in WandaVision, A Very British Scandal brings them together – and the result is electric.
The three-part drama tells the story of the scandalous divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. “Scandal” is the key word here, as the series tells not only the events as they unfold but also scrutinises the surrounding attention and attitudes in society at the time. The divorce proceedings took in all manner of salacious accusations and details, including violence, forgery and one early example of what we now know to be revenge porn. Sarah Phelps, who has masterfully brought Agatha Christie to the screen in bold and timely ways, once again showcases her knack for writing scathing, witty and naturalistic dialogue that probes into characters amid unusual, strenuous circumstances.
She takes us back to the beginning of the relationship between Margaret Campbell (Foy) and Ian Campbell (Bettany), the 11th Duke of Argyll, and that gives us a chance to enjoy their chemistry. Bethany is is all desiring glances and Foy soaks them up with a charming confidence, and the show immediately sets the tone for what is often steamy telly but also explicit about the double standards in play at the time – soon, we see another side of the Duke, who is drunken, debauched and prone to angry outbursts. And yet we also know that their divorce is framed by the media and public as a result of Margaret’s failings.
The result is a pointedly timely dissection of misogyny, but the script and impeccable production design make sure it’s a juicy and entertaining watch too, from the delicious costumes to the stunning location work. But it’s the performances that really keep you hooked, as Foy and Bettany bring nuance and conflict to their dynamic, which ranges from fun to toxic – and is never less than riveting to behold.
A Very British Scandal is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2023