Chris Connor reviews Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal…
There have been a myriad of dramas focused on scandals among Britain’s elite in recent years with A Very British Scandal and The Trial of Christine Keeler prime examples, indicating there is an interest among the public for such content especially at such a tumultuous time politically. The latest of this style is David E. Kelley and Melissa James’ Anatomy of a Scandal, adapted from the best selling 2018 novel from Sarah Vaughan. The series documents an affair between a high flying Cabinet Minister and his aide, a rape allegation and court case that follow the end of their relationship, charting the impact the case has on MP James Whitehouse and his immediate family.
Anatomy of a Scandal boasts some marquee names led by Rupert Friend as the MP in question James Whitehouse, Sienna Miller as his longstanding wife Sophie, Michelle Dockery as prosecution lawyer Kate Woodcroft, who may be more tied to the case than it first seems, and Naomi Scott as Olivia Lytton, Whitehouse’s former aide and mistress. We also catch glimpses of the Whitehouses’ time at Oxford University where Whitehouse struck up a lasting friendship with the future Prime Minister played by Geoffrey Streatfeild in an amusing casting for The Thick of It fans where he of course played Coalition Minister Fergus Williams.
The series is a timely one with scandal seemingly never far from real life politics and has clearly been marketed as such by Netflix. It is a shame that it is often unsure of its tone and pacing with some questionable editing decisions especially for the flashback sequences which are often shot out of focus with a fisheye lens; while on occasion this would make for an intriguing technique it is employed so often that it becomes tiresome and distracting. It is unclear who we should root for for much of the series, Whitehouse, Sophie or Kate. The writing also feels rather too on the nose particularly in the final few episodes where much of the nuance and subtlety disappears and it is to the actors’ credit that they manage to hold things together. The court sequences are enjoyable and the subject of the alleged rape and its impact is handled delicately. There is a twist towards the series end which perhaps better signposted, may have made more of an impact but is so absurdist and leftfield that it threatens to derail the series.
From a performance perspective the majority of the cast are on song helping to compensate for some of the series’ shortcomings with Sienna Miller and Rupert Friend boasting fine chemistry and making the pair’s relationship and its failings believable, along with some strikingly eerie castings for the couple in their youth. Sophie in many ways is the series’ core and the erosion of faith in her husband is very well captured. Naomi Scott is compelling as Olivia in a small but integral role with the bulk of her role in the courtroom scenes and flashbacks but nevertheless she is able to leave a lasting impression and better showcase her range than in some of her work to date.
Anatomy of a Scandal is well acted yet feels oddly put together with some questionable directorial decisions that detract from the story at its core and with narrative direction that may leave some viewers dumbfounded. It remains a timely document of the abuse of political power and privilege with the quality of its lead performances making up its shortcomings for the most part. It is a shame the quality of writing and direction can’t capture the level of commitment from the cast, making the series overall an uneven and often frustrating watch.