- All three episodes of “A Very English Scandal” are available to stream on Amazon Prime starting Friday.
- The series, based on a true story, stars Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw as men who had an alleged affair in the early 1960s, when homosexuality was illegal in Britain.
- Grant is excellent as the corrupt politician Jeremy Thorpe, who is accused of conspiring to murder Norman Scott (Whishaw) after Scott tells people about their affair.
- The series, which highlights the flaws of the judicial system in the U.K. as it favours the establishment, is an important part of LGBTQ+ history.
On Friday, the accurately named “A Very English Scandal” starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw makes its debut on Amazon. In the U.K., the series, based on the John Preston book of the same name, premiered in May on BBC One.
The excellent and thought-provoking (but quite fun) three-episode series spans a decade. Written by Russell T. Davies (“Doctor Who,” “Queer As Folk”) and directed by Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Queen”) it’s a true story that people in the United States – especially those who were too young to remember, or not alive when it happened – might not know.
In the late 1970s, British politician and former leader of the Liberal party Jeremy Thorpe (Grant) was at the center of a scandal when Norman Scott (Whishaw) went public about an alleged affair with him in the early 60s, when homosexuality was illegal in Britain (it was decriminalized in 1967). For nearly a decade, Thorpe used his power to prevent the press from leaking any information about what happened. Then police investigated after Scott accused Thorpe of conspiring to murder him for openly speaking about it.
Thorpe, who denied conspiracy to murder and the affair (he insisted they were just friends) went to trial in May 1979. He was acquitted, partly due to the prosecution’s witnesses, one of whom was Peter Bessell, a former colleague of Thorpe’s who had an agreement with The Sunday Telegraph to get paid a large amount of money if his testimony led to a guilty charge. In the series, Alex Jennings, known for his role as the Duke of Windsor on Netflix’s “The Crown,” plays Bessell.
The series is Grant’s return to television after 25 years. And he is astonishing as Jeremy Thorpe – almost as astonishing as his role in “Paddington 2,” which came out earlier this year and also starred Whishaw, who provides the voice for Paddington bear. In his performance, Grant is completely aware of his character’s flaws, privilege, and psychotic nature.
In the series, Thorpe does conspire to murder his former lover, and uses his political connections to get away with it for years. But Grant also plays him without judgment, almost sympathetically. After all, he was a closested gay man during a time when homosexuality could send you to prison. The best thing about Grant here is that although the material is heavy, he has a lot of fun with it.
In contrast, Whishaw’s Norman is a proud and out gay man, who refuses to cater to society’s standards and expectations by remaining quiet about his affair with Thorpe. He’s clever, fearless, and represents the revolutionary youth. Whishaw brings the same vibrancy as Grant to lighten the tone of the series, which has some very dark but funny moments that ease the weight of this story without making light of it.
You can watch all three episodes of “A Very English Scandal” with an Amazon Prime subscription.
Watch the trailer here:
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