Based on a true story, A Very British Scandal delves into the notorious sex scandal that riveted Britain in 1963. It revolves around arrogant, ambitious Margaret Whigham, born in Scotland to a self-made Scottish textiles millionaire who moved the family to New York when she was 14.
After several highly publicized romances during her London debutante season and a disastrous first marriage that ended in divorce, scheming socialite Margaret (Claire Foy) married Ian Campbell (Paul Bettany), Duke of Argyll, in 1951.
A captain in the British Army during W.W.II, Ian Campbell inherited the Duke of Argyll title when a very distant cousin died without an heir. Already unhappy in his second marriage, dissolute Ian was intrigued not only by Margaret’s beauty but also by her generous dowry which she used to renovate and lavishly refurbish crumbling Inveraray Castle in Scotland.
When he wasn’t gambling or drunk, Ian’s passion was directed toward futile efforts to salvage a Spanish galleon that sank off the nearby coast. Meanwhile, he collected compromising Polaroid photographs of Margaret – wearing nothing but her signature pearls – which he used to publicly ‘shame’ her in court.
When their marriage was dissolved, the judge condemned Margaret as a promiscuous woman with a “debased sexual appetite.”
In press notes, screenwriter Sarah Phelps said that the duchess’s tawdry case and the media furor it inspired marked “the end of an era.” It was “the birth of a different kind of journalism, and a way of writing about sex and scandal in a very, very prurient way.”
Defending the duchess, Claire Foy (The Crown) notes: “She lied and she cheated, and she did all sorts of really awful things. (Yet) In her defense, they were also done to her.”
Unfortunately, director Anne Sewitsky eschews any inherent humor, which makes the three-part melodrama a bit tedious as it evolves.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, A Very British Scandal is a sordid 6, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.