Anatomy of a Scandal

An affair by a British politician with a staffer gets a flashy, soapie treatment with a top-shelf cast.

If you recall 2015’s Doctor Foster, Suranne Jones’ character suspected her husband was having an affair from a single strand of hair on a coat.

It was superbly subtle before tumbling into a marriage in disarray.

In Anatomy of a Scandal there’s no room for such incisive observation with everything laid bare in all kinds of gratuitous staging, leaving only the question of how Sophie Whitehouse (Sienna Miller) will react to the information.

The 6 part British series is based on the novel by Sarah Vaughan and centres around the infidelity -and more- of sitting politician James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend). He leads a charmed life, father to two kids, friend to the PM and basking in all kinds of wealthy, white male privilege.

But when an affair with attractive staffer Olivia (Naomi Scott) is exposed, his family life and political career unravel. Fleet Street journos hound him, a party advisor wants him cut loose, and despite his admissions to Sophie that the affair was purely physical, he is at risk of losing it all.

But worse will come when allegations from Olivia raise questions of consent. With the case heading to trial, gun prosecutor Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) is determined to bring him down.

The courtroom is where plenty of action will play out, when not interjected by tawdry, over the top flashback scenes both from contemporary scenes and University days. Sophie finds herself wondering if her husband has been concealing a pattern of behaviour…

The post #MeToo script by David E. Kelley and Melissa James Gibson -and especially the overt direction by S.J. Paulson- leaves little to the imagination. Like a telenovela, it rises and falls with histrionic emotion, sometimes with theatrical metaphors that feel like a Hollywood saga rather than a British psychological thriller.

Yet the twists and turns are so ludicrous you sort of have to embrace them just to see where the next episode takes you (I watched all 6, hopelessly sucked into its very silly vortex).

It’s also brazen in its detail of sexual violence -at least under cross examination rather than visually- to the point of probably being triggering for some sections of the audience … thankfully there is an online referral for victims accompanying each episode.

Sienna Miller, whose character tolerates far too much for my liking, Rupert Friend and Michelle Dockery all deliver the nonsense with ample flair. You can happily sit back and lose yourself in its soapie tropes, or maybe even hate-watch if it gets too bizarre.

It’s just a shame that a topic so serious gets such an over the top treatment.

Anatomy of a Scandal screens Friday April 15 on Netflix.

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