Based on a true story, A Very English Scandal is a delliciously thrilling series driven forward by an exquisite performance by Hugh Grant as Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe and Alex Jennings as his ex homosexua lover, Peter Bessell. What begins as a lighthearted, playful drama about a sordid homosexual fling quickly descends into a politically charged, tense affair, ending with a light touch of courtroom drama making for quite the impressive series as the acting and characterisation takes centre stage for all to see.
The story begins with politician Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) receiving a threatening letter from a former gay lover, Peter Bessell (Alex Jennings) during a lunch with his best friend. A series of flashbacks follow that bring us up to speed on what transpired between the two characters in the past before jumping back to the present day. With Jeremy’s political career on the verge of taking off and Peter’s life continuously descending after being left with no National Insurance card or prospects for the future, Peter’s loud and proud homosexuality eventually results in him accusing Jeremy of orchestrating an attempt to murder to keep him quiet about their affair. The three episodes are all tonally distinct, with a dark humour underlying some of the more thought provocative themes around people’s attitudes homosexuality in the 60s.
Without reading the book, it’s difficult to gauge just how true to the original tale A Very English Scandal is but despite this the series is highly entertaining and moves forward at a decent pace. Hugh Grant and Alex Jennings are simply sublime in their roles; their feisty charisma and contrasting outlooks on life are beautifully illustrated on screen and it really helps make for quite the enthralling watch as we see these two character’s lives unfold parallel to one another after being intertwined for some time. As a personal gripe the second episode does feel a little long-winded at times, leaning heavily on negotiations to silence Peter as he settles down in Dublin but there’s never a moment of boredom felt here and some of this is helped by the three episode structure that works as the traditional three act set-up you’d expect from a story like this.
What really makes A Very English Scandal unique is the overall tone and feel to the three episodes. Big, bold white writing fills up most of the screen that greets every establishing shot. Despite the dramatic tension gripping large portions of the narrative, the overall tone is one of dark humour and incredulousness; the bouncy, upbeat orchestral music has a hint of mischief to it too and this ultimately bleeds over to the creative editing and perfectly blended dark humour and drama in the script. It’s really quite impressive how well this style is executed here, as it can be notoriously difficult to pull off and the seamless blend from this humorous style early on to a more dramatic, serious drama late on is really quite impressively crafted.
BBC dramas are always a little hit or miss and it’s difficult to gauge whether you’ll get something that can genuinely rival some of the more prolific studios with more money to make their content like Amazon Prime and Netflix. Thankfully, BBC manage to nail almost every component of this wonderfully written series, producng a surprisingly gripping political drama. Hugh Grant and Alex Jennings are the real stars here though and although the story itself is told in a pretty conventional way, the creative cinematography used to back up the exquisite acting from these two men help to set this show apart from many other political dramas out there. This delightfully charming series deserves to be watched and if this one flies off the radar, to quote Hugh Grant during the first episode, I’ll be very, very, very, very disappointed.