‘Oh yes. Particularly in bed.’
‘Pedro, I adore you. You and your monstrous appetite. Weren’t you a lay preacher? Well I suppose you were, literally.’
‘Call it a hobby. Some people play golf, I like screwing.’
Sex, politics and celebrities: A Very English Scandal already sounds so promising, doesn’t it? Well, how about a conspiracy to murder? How about a hilarious archly raised eyebrow, and a cacophony of quick witted quips from Hugh Grant – now back on TV for the first time since 1993 – and the sad, desperate splutterings of Ben Whishaw? It sounds (to paraphrase our protagonists) very, very, very very excellent now, doesn’t it?
A Very English Scandal is perfectly named. Despite being about a political sex scandal – on which the British very obviously do not have a monopoly (hello Stormy Daniels) – the first episode of the three-part BBC series perfectly encapsulates the boisterous, roaringly self-satisfied English idiosyncrasies of our political elite and upper-middle classes; those untouchable, superior Old Etonians, delightedly clawing their way up the greasy pole.
Every breath sounds like a blistering Boris Johnson impression: ‘Is your secretary any good?’ ‘Oh yes. Particularly in bed.’ I’ve no doubt that every country has its fair share of ambitious, predatory, egotistical power grabbers, but ours seem to have so much more fun than everyone else's.
Some excellent make-up and a malleable face transform Grant from a rom-com heartthrob into the gaunt Thorpe, but it is Grant’s comic timing and easy supercilious expressions – of the kind that shone through his Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones – that make him such a convincing, bombastic, conniving politician. This is President Frank Underwood, but with style.
Jeremy Thorpe MP
The first episode races pleasingly from scene to scene, whizzing us through conversations between Thorpe and his sniggering chum Peter Bessell (Alex Jennings) to the memory of Thorpe’s first encounter with Norman Scott in a stables, where Thorpe hands Scott his number from below an elevated little walkway, in a scene designed to remind you of Juliet’s balcony – if Romeo didn’t love Juliet, but want to hide her, sobbing, in a London flat.
We meet Thorpe’s pushy mother, discover their political and social family ambitions, witness the homophobic prejudices of the House of Commons and spend time revelling in English idiosyncrasies – including one fellow MP so eccentric he offers his guests wellington boots so they don’t get bitten by the house badgers roaming about the place.
A Very English Scandal offers up the very worst of English society with wit and verve and an astonishing lead performance from Grant. It’s almost as good as sleeping with your secretary.
A Very English Scandal episode one now on iPlayer and airs later in the year on Amazon Prime Video for US audiences.
|What||A Very English Scandal review BBC One|
On 17 Mar 18, A Very English Scandal air times 2018. Date and times tbd