My husband and I try to find programs we can enjoy together, and we often fail unless it’s college football. I usually end up reading or writing after we eat and spend time together each evening. Last week I was scrolling around on Amazon Prime and saw a series that looked interesting—A Very English Scandal.
I didn’t pay attention to who was in the BBC production. I remembered the sizzling reportage about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal from the 1970s when I was young and blessedly oblivious to most politics.
We began to stream the show, and after a few seconds, I said, “Wow! That’s Hugh Grant.”
Grant’s transformation in this role is astonishing. Grant portrayed the real character of Thorpe so successfully, you forget he’s just acting.
Amid the unfurling of events comprising everything from criminalized homosexuality and dank and dirty political shenanigans, I’d watched for quite some time before realizing Grant was in the role of Jeremy Thorpe, a Liberal Member of Parliament in the 1970s, and who, for a good part of a decade, led the Liberal Party.
Grant has always been a favorite of mine when it comes to acting. I don’t share all his views on politics, but I do admire his ability to make a role his own. He does this so well that at times, he looks almost identical to the real Jeremy Thorpe when it comes to mannerisms and demeanor.
As you watch, you realize the age-old story. Thorpe was born into politics—his parents were directly involved in politics in different ways. A key aspect to the series is context. Thorpe enjoyed relations with men, and at the time in the UK, that was a big negative to say the least. In 1967 the United Kingdom decriminalized homosexual acts, under certain circumstances. The UK policy on same sex was complicated. The Guardian offers an explanation and criticism.
Appearing opposite Grant as Thorpe is a very charming young actor Ben Whishaw as Norman Scott. Scott was Thorpe’s alleged lover, and Whishaw creates a sympathetic yet troubling character who was persecuted in various ways. The worst persecution came from depriving the real Scott of a National Insurance Card, a document he needed to be able to work and to get health benefits. Thorpe could have helped Scott get that card, but the politician didn’t want there to be a single tie to Scott other than the ties that already existed, largely in the form of personal letters.
Regardless of Thorpe’s political dilemma, it was unforgivable that so many deprived Scott of a document that amounted to a basic necessity for survival.
The series does a great job of depicting what more or less really happened, although Scott took issue with the way his character was portrayed. I don’t know the real Norman Scott, but I found Whishaw’s portrayal of a troubled young gay man to be credible. Scott has the last laugh on those who abandoned or persecuted him—he outlived them all and has made a home with his boyfriend and dogs on a farm.
The series A Very English Scandal has lots of sizzlers—political intrigue, an alleged murder conspiracy, and steamy gay sex. However, it puts politics in a social context while driving home a universal truth.
Where the political class is concerned, there’s a perpetual pass, dating to antiquity, regardless of party, ideology, ethnicity, or deeds.
(Kay B. Day/Jan. 17, 2020)
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