A Very English Scandal: Episode 1
May 30, 2018 9:59 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

It is 1960s England, homosexuality is illegal and the politician Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) begins a whirlwind affair with a young stable hand, Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw). But when the relationship turns sour and Jeremy's career goes from strength to strength, Norman becomes a secret that Jeremy is desperate to hide...

The Guardian: Hugh Grant has the time of his life as the former Liberal leader who faced trial for conspiracy to murder
The Telegraph: Hugh Grant is both charming and bone-chilling in this brilliant take on the Thorpe affair
The Independent: Hugh Grant is an inspired choice to play disgraced politician Jeremy Thorpe
The Spectator: What's amazing about Jeremy Thorpe is that it genuinely didn't occur to him that murdering someone might be illegal or immoral
posted by soren_lorensen (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Oh Paddington, what have you gotten yourself into this time?
posted by acidic at 10:49 AM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hurrah! I've just started watching this, thanks soren_lorensen.

So I remember this affair, the investigation into the dog was written up in the Sunday Times, then the best paper in world, I think before it it all reached critical velocity and came to trial. It's a while back so my memory may be distorting but I think that's the sequence - here's this poor guy claiming an act of violence and there were interviews and photos and profiles of the perpetrators, and then a trial, and then Thorpe's involvement coming properly to light, and then poor Scott being absolutely hauled through the mud.

Cruelty to animals is one of the select things guaranteed to get the British riled up, if not for that being involved I wonder if an attempted murder "anti-blackmail threat" of such an outcast figure would even have prompted an investigation, given establishment interests and Thorpe's machiavellian control of the story. It's very satisfying to know Norman Scott has outlasted all of them, has very good friends and a community about him, and appears to have had quite a happy life in the end.

While it was a great performance, I can't square Ben Wishaw's rather fey, whispy portrayal with the photos of Scott, who was strapping and handsome, not winsome and beautiful. Hugh Grant though! A very good looking, laid back man has transformed himself into an intense, ugly, dynamic, disreputable one. It's fabulous physical acting and also enjoyable because he's having so much fun.

Just a few years ago I read more about the scandal that didn't hold back about Thorpe's actions and personality, the guy was a complete predatory jerk. I guess that comes through in the series? But as an aftertaste, since so far the story is so entertaining. As an actor Grant surely has to be one of the Best Villains Ever. Surpassing even himself in Paddington 2! Up there with Cousin Cissy in Hot Fuzz.

Two tangential notes.
1/ Aside from scandals attaching to individual MP's there are persistent rumours of a historic child abuse ring centred on the House of Commons and directed at vulnerable boys and youths they come into contact with through constituency work.

2/ The Sunday Times! That was the newspaper of newspapers! Who would have have thought a Rees Mogg could be involved in anything so sensible and so quality? I get cognitive dissonance every time I think about the current politician being the son of the editor who made that newspaper so good - it was the foundational pattern of quality broadsheet with associated Sunday supplements.
posted by glasseyes at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2018

Apologies, belatedly I realised not everyone watching will know the whole story and edited to take out some details. But I guess the direction the story is going in is fairly thoroughly telegraphed in this first episode?

Cousin Cissy of course is fictional, Jeremy Thorpe was not. I guess it wouldn't have been quite so amusing to be up close and personal with him. Another thing the story brings to mind is the way a terrible bunch of establishment people closed ranks around Lord Lucan.
posted by glasseyes at 11:23 AM on May 30, 2018

I'm not British, so I had no idea about any of this story before I started watching this. I am an unrepentant Russell T. Davies fangirl (does The Second Coming have a Fanfare post? It should!) which is how I come to this. Hugh Grant really is remarkable in this role, though. Whishaw...well, he may not be true to the real Norman Scott but I forgive him basically anything because I could just watch him read the phone book for hours.

It is interesting coming to this as a total outsider, I surmise that this is one of those things that everyone in the target audience knows at least the vague outline of, but I was legit scandalized when at the end of this episode, Thorpe is like, "Well, you'll have to wack him what what cheerio!"
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:27 AM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh lord, really sorry for spoilering, s_l.
posted by glasseyes at 11:34 AM on May 30, 2018

This is a guy who married for brownie points, who thought he should make a play for Princess Margaret simply to enhance his own status and who later set out to acquire the 'best quality' woman he could just to make himself look good while knowing he would be selling her a lie. People were just things to him. I think he felt he was travelling in a straight line to being Prime Minister and anyone getting in his way was committing an offence against nature. At the same time his sexual behaviour was risk-taking, rackety and reckless. It's not surprising it's making for such fascinating television.
posted by glasseyes at 11:45 AM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

No worries, glasseyes! I've already watched episode 2, so I do know what happens to the dog!
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:08 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Secret Lives: Jeremy Thorpe - A Channel 4 documentary from 1996. A lot of it seems to have ended up in this drama. Warning - includes interview with Cyril Smith who was worse. Much worse.

Peter Cook's famous parody of the judge's summing up at the eventual trial - TW for homophobia, sorry, which is mainly there to parody the hypocritical homophobia of the establishment, but nevertheless. Definitely an interesting historical artefact, though. From The Secret Policeman's Ball.

Part of an actual interview with Jeremy Thorpe - If you're curious as to what the real Thorpe was like. Never liked him, myself. The interviewer (although we only glimpse him in this clip) is Jimmy Savile. Welcome to England in the 1970s. Basically, the entire decade needs a trigger warning.
posted by Grangousier at 12:24 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tell you what though, once you've got a National Insurance number the record is there for ever, so I don't understand why Scott couldn't just phone up and get a new card with his particulars on it. Ref: having a holiday job when I was in college and finding out 10 years later I still had (and have) the same National Insurance number.
posted by glasseyes at 3:58 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not normally a huge Russel T fan but he does a good job here, Frears does an excellent job of directing.

It's interesting that it's not better known as it's probably the biggest scandal there's been in British politics bar Profumo. Even years later there was a kid in my school who got stick because his surname was Thorpe (of course back then being gay was seen as almost being worse than being a murderer)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:13 AM on June 1, 2018

That was some outstanding acting all around. Completely changed my mind about Hugh Grant.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:55 AM on July 4, 2018

Slate: The Very Real Story Behind A Very English Scandal
The mini-series touches on the fight to change the law [the Buggery Act of 1533], thanks to the determination of a Welsh Labour minister, Leo Abse, and an eccentric Conservative peer, Lord Arran, whose closeted brother had committed suicide. (Arran’s other main cause was the rights of badgers, which had free run of his country house. When asked why his badger-welfare bill had failed, while the decriminalization of homosexuality passed successfully, he was reported to have answered, “There are not many badgers in the House of Lords.”)
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:21 PM on July 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

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