Starring Claire Foy and Paul Bettany, the show plays out across three nights starting Boxing Day.
With the BBC’s promotional engine at full steam ahead, the corporation have released a raft of interviews supporting A Very British Scandal.
Written by Sarah Phelps, the three-part series chronicles the Duke and Duchess of Argyll’s explosive 1963 divorce. It is described as “one of the most notorious, extraordinary, and brutal legal cases of the 20th century.”
Discussing her first introduction to the case, Sarah Phelps said:
“In the summer of 1993, I was living in a cockroach-infested flat and earning my rent selling advertising space in magazines, a job I was so bad at it was almost a talent. On the table next to mine, was a guy who worked on a Royal magazine, very camp and very funny and every morning, we’d tear through the papers looking for leads. One morning, we were doing exactly this and he suddenly said, “Oh, she’s dead!” I said, “Who?” And he said “The Dirty Duchess,” and off my blank look said “Oh, come on, Sarah, you must have heard of the Dirty Duchess” – and that was the beginning.”
Claire Foy, who plays the aforementioned Duchess, considers the troubled relationship at the heart of the show.
“They are toxic from the beginning. Margaret is very high-octane and his life is very much about alcohol and his addictions. She naively went into the relationship and didn’t want to find out anything else about him, but also vice versa. It’s fascinating in a way as I don’t think I’ve ever been in a drama where both of the people are so openly flawed. They don’t try and lessen their snobbery, their naivety or any of those things. They do love each other and it is, in its own way, a love story, and 10 years after they divorced, Ian died. I would like to think there was some sort of romantic unfinished relationship. They saw each other at their worst and I think there is something in that.”
She also reflects on the story’s relevance to a modern audience:
“It’s depressing as I don’t think a lot has changed. I hope that it allows a woman who was judged, ridiculed, belittled, manipulated and taken advantage of by the legal system, to at least have that shown. I think that the law doesn’t particularly treat women very well at all and this is just one example of how the odds were not stacked in her favour. She was an interesting woman and the more stories about interesting women, the better.”
For his part, Paul Bettany talks about what attracted him to A Very British Scandal:
I thought the scripts were pithy. Sarah writes in a very muscular fashion and I loved the two of them. ‘Loved’ might be the wrong word – more fascinated by the two of them, and I relished the opportunity of delving into who Ian might be and who they might be together. I can’t stress enough how much the idea of working with Claire Foy was appealing. I think she’s a treasure of the nation, absolutely extraordinary. The ease she has in front of the camera is a lesson to literally any actor. Her facility of understanding the story and breaking down what is going to be felt and understood by the audience is literally second to none.
He also considers his character’s disturbed past:
“I think Ian displayed incredibly cruel and at times, violent behaviour. I think Ian was damaged by many things, one of them being him held in a prisoner of war camp. His job was to absorb the punishment for prisoners that he had helped facilitate their escape. When he came back from the war, he was six stone and I don’t think he was in a particularly happy place. I don’t know what it was, whether he was suffering with some sort of undiagnosed PTSD but he was self-medicating with alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates.”
Anne Sewitsky has discussed the appeal of the project to her, which is effectively a second series of A Very English Scandal.
“It was the craziness of the whole thing, the absurdity of what they did to each other and how far they went. There was lots of space to create strong emotional characters between two people who are out to kill each other or love each other.”
A Very British Scandal begins on BBC One at 9PM on Boxing Day, with the whole series available to stream on iPlayer. For those who prefer to keep things linear, subsequent episodes will appear at 9PM on 27th and 28th December.