Based on Sarah Vaughan’s renowned novel of the same name, Anatomy of a Scandal exposes the powerful world it is set in, that being the top echelons of the British Parliament and male politicians within it. Veneer, sophistication, and polish may all be present at the said level, but scratch the surface and you find that patriarchy is rampant across all stages of the socio-economic structure.
A man with wealth, pedigree, and considerable influence has the wherewithal to hide it better. That is the only difference. James Whitehouse (Friend), an English Member of Parliament (MP) with close ties to the Prime Minister (PM), is that kind of a man. On the outside, he comes across as charming, a people’s politician willing to go the extra mile for his constituents. At home, he is a loyal husband and a dedicated father. But that is the thing about an impossibly clean image…there is only so far it can carry you before the bubble bursts. James’ affair with a young parliamentary researcher in his office becomes tabloid fodder, as he scrambles to break the news to Sophie (Miller), his wife.
She is barely allowed to process the information, let alone his contrite behaviour, as the PM’s foul-mouthed Communications Director barges in on the couple’s exchange. He is advised to lay low, until the smoke clears. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But that is only the start of a complex web of deceit, with an allegation of rape at the eye of the storm. The miniseries’ most memorable aspects are its pacing and acting. Only so much is revealed in the opening episodes, keeping your anticipation high for the subsequent ones to follow. The beginning employs the technique of an unreliable narrator (through its frames) as it tells each version of the story in snatches…in order to blur the truth. A ‘he said, she said’ situation arises as the court case gets underway.
The show’s fine dialogue points the viewer in the right moral direction. It paints the picture of a man’s journey from a rowdy collegiate golden boy to a straight-talking, upright MP. With every passing frame, Sophie begins to question everything, even their heady days of youth. At her wit’s end one evening, she asks their children’s young Russian nanny: He’s a good man! Isn’t he? Not a rapist, surely? The latter hesitates, before responding with, “He’s a man.”
The relationships that form the story are key to an enhanced understanding. Be it the central one involving James and Sophie, Kate and her married partner’s complex bond, or even the unlikely camaraderie shared between the prosecutor and the defence lawyer, they are all written well. A theme of the show is how the past often foretells the future. It raises subjects as important as consent, patriarchy, privilege, and male entitlement, addressing the unfair power differential between men and women in a variety of social settings.
Anatomy of a Scandal
Cast: Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Friend, Naomi Scott, Josette Simon, Geoffrey Streatfeild
Director: SJ Clarkson
Streaming on: Netflix