Claire Foy won our hearts and won an Emmy. as stout young Elizabeth II In the first two seasons of The Crown. It returns to the small screen on Friday. “Very British Scandal” on Amazon Prime Video. As the Duchess of Argyll, a career socialite caught in a commonplace divorce, her technique is as impeccable as ever. But if it wins your heart, you might want to get your valves checked.
From the producers of “A Very British Scandal” “Very British Scandal” (2018), another three-hour Amazon-BBC miniseries a real-life tabloid storm among the British privileged classes. “Very English” with Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw at the head of their form was great (also available on Prime) and this lineage – duchess and duke with a struggling cast of two comparably good actors Foy and Paul Bettany – “Very British It raised hopes for ”.
For this viewer at least, those hopes have been dashed, but the distance you travel may vary. If you’re not happy with the way the previous series’ characters used the ludicrous humor hidden in their expressions and self-harming behavior, then “A Very British Scandal” might be for you. The behavior is equally deplorable, but there’s barely a bit of humor to be found.
The duchess and duke are the daughter of a wealthy Scottish businessman, Margaret Whigham, and World War II. The series spans 16 years of their relationship and ends in their barren and highly public divorce in 1963.
Their relationship obviously begins when Ian is married to his second wife and the optic doesn’t get any better from there. Ian uses Margaret’s money to restore the ruined castle of Argyll, finance a fictitious project to save a Spanish treasure ship, and keep himself in a semi-permanent state of drunkenness. Margaret grumbles at her friends, spends most of her time with other men, and hatches a plan to disinherit Ian’s sons, involving fake letters and the purchase of a boy.
When faced with such a story, a common strategy is to some extent satire; This is the path that director Stephen Frears and writer Russell T. Davies follow in “Very English” while maintaining the full humanity of their sad characters. Another time-honored way to go is loud melodrama: The couple’s pathetic treatment of each other (and most of the other people on screen) is compensated by their great but misunderstood love affair.
There’s also a way that creator and writer Sarah Phelps and director Anne Sewitsky chose to get into “A Very British Scandal,” which at the very least diffuses both comedy and emotion in any inappropriate way. it actually resonates with an audience. A “Masterpiece” show on PBS looks like she forgot to take her anti-depressants. (Sewitsky and cinematographer Si Bell, a regular “Peaky Blinders,” give the show a handsome and somewhat stuffy “Masterpiece”-noir look.)
This is not necessarily a surprising development. Phelps has written a number of crime programs for the BBC, including five adaptations of the Agatha Christie novels, that privilege gruesome twists against dark psychology and plot logic and coherent characterization. The characters’ incomprehensibility becomes annoying and increasingly mysterious as the violent, manipulative alcoholic and smug, snobby manufacturer punches and counters in “A Very British Scandal.”
Some of this may just be Phelps’ sensibility, but there seem to be some unresolved issues with his approach to the material. The show portrays both the duke and the duchess as utterly unpleasant and unprincipled fools, but it also wants to give them a sense as victims of trauma – there are hazy references to Ian’s time as a prisoner of the Nazis and when Margaret is particularly stressed, falling down an elevator shaft is almost returns to an event (taken from life) in which he died.
Bettany plays the more superficial of the two, the better. She’s totally convincing as a straight-talking, sociopathic cad, and the way she delivers Ian’s harsh humiliations gives the show a few flashes of humor. (He nails the unpleasant whiff of a line like Ian’s response when asked how often he had sex with Margaret: “Only when I can’t fight him. He’s like a wolf.”)
Foy makes a bold attempt – it’s hard to imagine a more expert performance in the role. But it’s trying to make sense of a password. Margaret’s protests of her love for Ian—the only thing that might explain her staying with him for so long—are not in line with her cold fishy personality and indifferent behavior, and Phelps hasn’t written anything for her to reconcile them. It may reflect the authenticity of the story, but it would be nice to have emotion added in the dramatization.
When the divorce filing came (occupies most of the last episode) and Margaret was publicly slandered as a serial adulterer—one famous piece of evidence featured in the show’s plot was a Polaroid she had oral sex with—we clearly had to. see him as the victim of an extreme manifestation of sexist moral hypocrisy. But the show failed to put her plight into a larger dramatic context that would help us feel something; didn’t really try. If being cold fish is a British quality as the cliché says, then the show is very British indeed.