A Very English Scandal

Photograph: BBC
Rating 9.1
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 3 x 60 mins

In our minds A Very English Scandal would be someone putting the milk in before the hot water when making a cup of tea, or going over 24 hours without mentioning the weather. But here it’s something much more fun: a plot to murder.

Ok, that made us sound a bit morbid. But this three-part miniseries about the Thorpe Affair is great, scandalous fun. Written by Russel T Davies (of It’s a Sin), A Very English Scandal dramatises the events that led to the infamous trial of Liberal politician, Jeremy Thorpe, who was accused in 1979 of plotting to murder his boyfriend, Norman Scott.

We’ve got Hugh Grant taking on the role of Thorpe, and he looks to be having a whale of a time playing this charismatic and cunning character. When we meet first meet him it’s 1965, and homosexuality would remain illegal for a further two years. Meanwhile Thorpe is chowing down on steak tartare with fellow Liberal Peter Bessell talking about how they’d go “looking on the spare side,” describing themselves as “musical,” whilst checking out the male waiter’s bum. All the time speaking in the most impossibly posh accents which even they can’t help mocking. But this is a serious matter, as Bessell is quick to point out by saying “I’m not sure any boy is worth ending up in prison for.”

Russell T Davies had another smash hit series in It’s a Sin

Whilst Thorpe may have agreed then, he’d soon changes his mind once he meets the handsome young stable boy, Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw), for whom he immediately falls, nicknaming him ‘Bunny’. However, the honeymoon period couldn’t last forever, and soon the neurotic and naïve Norman is getting twitchy about being kept a secret. Feeling scorned when the relationship breaks down beyond the point of return, Norman pops down to the police station to accuse his former lover of being lustful with him, threatening the increasingly high profile career of Thorpe, whose progressive speeches are landing him in the spotlight…

Whether you know the details of the Thorpe Affair or not, this is a highly entertaining drama that is a joy to watch and also very revealing of the strangely distant past. Both Grant and Whishaw give stellar performances, building their characters into compelling, believable figures that are often hilarious and equally scummy.

Though, we admit, it’s Grant who stands out among the two, his flamboyant and monstrous portrayal of Thorpe – who talks about murdering his ex-boyfriend as if it were as casual as unfollowing him on Instagram – so captivating we almost wish the series were a few episodes longer. But by keeping it to just three, Davies has created a precise and near perfect piece of telly that pokes fun at the upper classes and shines light on this era of recent history.

This show has received almost universal praise, with Jasper Rees in The Telegraph giving it a full five stars and complimenting the script, which he says “has a sprightly structure and half an eye on the here and now.” The Times’s James Jackson matches this five star review, calling it “astonishing; funny yet awful,” saying “the humour is most effective in the details.” Lucy Mangan of The Guardian too gave it a perfect score, saying “It is a drama as brutally funny, endlessly clever, justifiably confident as its protagonist”, calling Grant’s performance “revelatory.” The New York Times’s Margaret Lyons, too loved this series, saying “A Very English Scandal is a dazzling three hours and in pace and potency puts The Crown to shame.”

First shown May 2018. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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