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Anatomy of a Scandal Review 2022 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew
Anatomy Of A Scandal would have been your average courtroom drama with a few showy stabs at suspense but for the issue around which the story is built. The limited series trains gun on the power and privileges that men of stature have traditionally enjoyed and often abused, while setting up a fictional tale against the backdrop of a rape allegation. In an era when the #MeToo movement has made course correction a reality all over, the crux renders relevance to the show.
Hastily-cut hazy vignettes of two persons having sex in a lift gets the story going, establishing right away the plot and its tone to follow. The man in the frame is James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend), a popular British minister who is a close friend of the Prime Minister and happily married with two kids. The woman is Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott), his young parliamentary researcher. As scandal threatens to erupt in the gossip press, James wastes no time in admitting to his wife Sophie (Sienna Miller) that he has been cheating on her. “Twenty or 30 times,” he explains, even as the Prime Minister (Geoffrey Streatfeild) sends across a wily communications manager to contain the damage.
Based on Sarah Vaughan’s novel of the same name, the series written and developed by Melissa James Gibson and David E. Kelley starts off at a languid pace, almost as if to underline the happy life of entitlement that James Whitehouse enjoys at home and work. The approach leads to a near-absence of drama in the early phase. Series director SJ Clarkson creates sequences to portray how James’ popularity only soars as news of his sexcapade spreads. The Prime Minister is informed by his aide how James has moved to number one on the popularity list of sexymp.co.uk (“that’s surely a first for a member of the Conservative Party!” the PM quips). A senior politician friend, harping on experience of over three decades, declares James’ dalliance “doesn’t qualify as a squall, not even a disturbance”, and dismisses it as “just a bit of rain” in his life. The PM won’t entertain the idea of dismissing James, at least “not yet”. Sophie admits her family is “officially and formally lucky”.
The narrative however lingers on footage used to depict James as a man in power through the early episode and the impact starts getting diluted. Playing to the gallery and magnanimously exuding charm, James seeks “patience” from the press as tries to “repair the damage done to my beloved family and my constituents”. Notably, there is no mention about the damage he might have done to Olivia, who claims till the end she was in love (we get to see it was James who had broken off the illicit affair after a few months).
The issue blows in James’ face when Oliva alleges rape and focus of the case shifts from the tabloid pages to the courtroom. James had forced himself on her about a week after their split, Olivia accuses.
Interesting, in this context, is how the idea of privilege for the man in power is actually embedded in the title of the show. The series is called Anatomy Of A Scandal, not Anatomy Of A Rape. In other words, as the Pandora’s Box explodes, the concern for all — PM, the public as well as the press — seems steadfastly on the subject that a man of James’ stature has been plagued by scandal, not that a common young girl has alleged she was been subjected to rape by her powerful boss.
The rude jolt to James, who flatly denies rape, is rather theatrically portrayed, though there is a promise of drama left in the story as his defence counsel Angela Regan (Josette Simon) and the prosecution counsel Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) gear up for battle in court.
However, as the case takes off and the story moves back and forth in time, the writer-creator duo of Gibson and Kelley struggles to sustain momentum over six episodes.
The slow burn you expect all long never really happens because the story moves along a predictable course despite the mandatory twists and a few unnecessary sub plots along the way. There isn’t enough captivating drama despite the fiery story idea at hand.
Rather, the makers focus too much on setting up good-looking sequences that lead to a tame ending despite a final twist in the tale.
Increasingly, the show starts appearing confused about its motive as the episodes roll. The makers can’t seem to decide what they want to focus on. At the core is a courtroom drama hinged on sexual politics and rape that seeks to work as an expose. The idea would have been gripping enough to set up ample suspense drama had it maintained deserved solemnity of tone. Instead, the mood is constantly interrupted by shots at setting up an audience-savvy erotic thriller that draws subplots from James’ philandering ways in his days as a university youth. Spaces in between are filled with melodrama that leaves a mediocre impact.
The screenwriting tries banking on individual scenes worth recall to salvage the story whenever it struggles to move. Shortly after the scandal erupts in the press, James and Sophie’s little daughter asks her mother what a ‘libertine’ is. She has chanced upon the word in a newspaper headline with story about James. Sophie struggles to explain, and finally comes up with: “It means someone who likes to have a good time.” The daughter exults: “Oh! I’m a libertine!” naturally without grasping the true meaning of the word. In another scene, the prosecution and defence counsels, friends off the court room, discuss aging. “Soon I’ll look like Brad Pitt,” says one. “Then I’ll fall in love (with you),” replies the other. The sequence where public prosecutor Kate cuts the case to the bone as a simple matter of consent or the lack of it is well-penned, too.
Such attempts, though, have to contend with a mire of cliches all along. The top angle shot treatment as James enters the courthouse for the first time would seem like a done-to-death cinematic style. Sequences showing how rape allegation against James affects Sophie’s life (“Is daddy going to jail?” asks her little child seeing all the frenzy, in a stereotypical attempt at creating a tearjerker moment). Despite dealing with such jaded writing and a narrative that lacks imagination, the cast does sufficiently well.
People of privilege, says public prosecutor Kate in her closing statement, “can no more break the law without consequence”. Welcome thought, that — if only the show had delivered the message with more assuredness.