TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin.

Hugh Grant is properly excellent as Thorpe, (his acting talent long obscured, (unfairly?), by reputation), revelling in the twists and turns of the duplicitous Liberal Party’s leader whose torrid affair with Ben Whishaw’s Norman Scott snowballed into something utterly life-changing. Thorpe’s determination to fuck men (at a time when it was still illegal) and have a public career, Scott’s resolve not to be tossed away as a sidepiece and the weight of the hold he has over his ex.

And incredibly, it’s all (well for the most part) true. The plot needs little to make it more compelling, but its the attention to detail that makes it soar. Monica Dolan’s exceptional Marion (Thorpe’s second wife) and her cod and parsley sauce; Alex Jennings’ erstwhile pal Peter Bessell, Adrian Scarborough’s marvellously cutting prosecutor, Patricia Hodge’s eyeglass, the list just goes on over three deliciously delectable hours. Definitely recommended. 

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