Less than a week ago, Netflix dropped the six-part Anatomy of a Scandal. This week: Prime Video dishes the dirt in A Very British Scandal, which at half the length is twice the fun. Notice a gossipy trend here?
With apologies (though not really) to TMZ, no one flings high-society mud with quite the savage glee of the Brits, and I’ve rarely seen a more corrosive display of mutual cruelty than in British Scandal (not to be confused with Prime Video’s 2018 A Very English Scandal, starring Hugh Grant). This taut and tawdry three-part docudrama from the prolific Sarah Phelps depicts in great histrionic detail the infamous divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in the early 1960s.
Tabloids had a field day taking down the high and not-so-mighty. So might you, though some moral disinfectant may come in handy afterward.
A world removed from her restrained portrayal of the young Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, Claire Foy is unabashedly lustful and terrifyingly frosty as Margaret, an entitled party-girl celebutante who woos and weds louche but cash-poor Duke Ian (a smugly reptilian Paul Bettany). A daddy’s girl who develops a stammer when her disapproving mother describes her as a “round-heels,” Margaret has one demand when she accepts Ian’s proposal: “We have to promise that we will never, ever bore one another.” Too bad she forgot the “till animosity do we depart” clause.
Margaret mainly seems to lust for his family’s ancestral Scottish castle, whose renovation she bankrolls before learning she won’t be welcome there when it passes to his unfriendly heirs. What’s more, she squanders much of her own fortune on Ian’s hapless treasure-hunting schemes, and when she remarks on the debt in which he’s drowning, his mockery is the spiteful act of a spoiled child: “Pay the b-bills. It’s what you’re for.”
It doesn’t take long for Scandal to rapidly descend into domestic hell, and while it’s hard to empathize with either of these creatures, you can’t help but wince when each of Margaret’s audacious but clumsy schemes for payback invariably backfire. Granted, forging his first wife’s handwriting in an attempt to disinherit her children was a bad move, and if we take nothing else away from the series, we learn it’s a terrible idea to keep your diaries and naughty extramarital photos where they can be found.
Beyond the unfairly one-sided slut-shaming Margaret endured, it’s clear these boors deserved each other and their unhappily-ever-after ending. But it does make for some juicy TV.
A Very British Scandal, Limited Series Premiere, Friday, April 22, Prime Video