Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A Triumphant Very English Scandal

If you haven't yet seen the BBC's brilliant comedy/drama A Very English Scandal, which might otherwise have been called the Rise and Fall of Jeremy Thorpe, then do yourself a favour and wallow in the first two episodes on the iPlayer. The last part is on Thursday.

This is a return to form for Russell T. Davies, the man who reinvented Doctor Who more than ten years ago and who has been struggling to find anything as satisfying ever since, notwithstanding his excellent a Midsummer Night's Dream of a couple of years ago.

More famously this is a tour de force by Hugh Grant, playing Thorpe with a raffish, twinkly charm that entirely does his character justice and entirely justifies his decision to slum it in television after his stellar career to date. Of course these days TV is the place to be and where the best parts are to be had and so it wasn't entirely a leap of faith. Nevertheless he cannot have imagined his appearance on the small screen would have been met with such rapturous delight as this has been. It shows him to be a very good character actor, rather than a typecast English fop.

It's a silly story of course, one that would be dismissed as ridiculous had it been dreamt up as fiction. That is why it has been dramatised in the way it has, with a lightness of touch and even a hint of whimsy. Thorpe had the kind of arrogance to think he could get away with more or less anything. And the point is that he did. Kind of.

Nowadays, many argue, this story would not have had to happen since Thorpe would not have needed to hide his true sexuality from the world. This is to ignore the fundamental character flaws of the man. He was a risk taker and possessed of the kind of ego to think he could get away with anything. He was a kind of British Donald Trump really, but possessed of better education, manners and style.

This is a lovely production. It has the details mostly right: the nylon dresses, the 70s cars, the shabbiness, the awful hair and the hats. Why can't hats come back for men? Or maybe the point of them then was to hide the awful haircuts.

The only slightly off key touch has been the BBC's insistence upon injecting its very 21st century attitudes into this series about the 60s and early 70s and so we get a few black faces injected in very minor parts just to make it try and look representative, when in reality it makes it look rather patronising and insulting. It is the worst kind of tokenism. It looks like what it is: a tick box exercise so typical of our national broadcaster. I doubt that the Houses of Parliament had black ushers in those days and we can be damned sure that Thorpe did not have a black aide working for him either. After all the Lib Dems these days don't have a single non white face amongst their MPs in 2018.

Otherwise this is a delight. The last episode is on Sunday when we will no doubt have the trial in all of its farcical glory.

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