Monday, 28 May 2018

The BBC's adaptation of "A Very English Scandal" is everything I'd hoped for - but why did Hugh Grant agree to play Thorpe?

Blake Harrison as the spectacularly useless hit-man
I read A Very English Scandal, John Preston's wonderfully entertaining blackly comedic account of the bizarre Jeremy Thorpe/Norman Scott scandal, earlier this year, and wrote about it here. It wasn't until I'd finished the book that I learned the BBC was filming a three-part series based on it, starring Ben Whishaw as Scott and Hugh Grant as Thorpe. If you've missed the first two parts, I can't recommend them highly enough - the adaptation is as funny and sinister as Preston's book (which is still worth reading for all the subplots the inevitably streamlined TV version had to leave out). The 1960s' background was well-handled, and the horrible '70s - the crap hair, the stupid clothes, the shitty cars - is beautifully evoked, and Blake Harrison as Andrew Newton, the blithering idiot hired to kill Scott,...

...successfully embodies the incompetence, tawdriness, vulgarity and moral decay of a truly abysmal decade. Unless they cock up the third and final instalment, it should be BAFTAs and treble brandies all round.

I'm not sure Hugh Grant has ever been better. He manages to capture Thorpe's seedy, conman charm and the ruthless viciousness underlying it - a combination often found in psychopaths - as well as the disconnect between many bleeding-heart liberals' loudly-trumpeted compassion for members of their chosen pet victim groups and their heartless willingness to destroy anyone who gets in their way. One thing about Grant's performance does puzzle me, though: does this champion of heavy-handed press regulation designed to prevent the rest of us from learning the sordid secrets of the rich, the famous and the powerful not realise that the sort of establishment cover-ups which protected Thorpe (and his fellow Liberal MP and fellow-psychopath Cyril Smith) mean that a vigorous, independent press, albeit one which often goes too far and whose methods and motives are often questionable, is something we should all be fighting to defend?

If, for some inexplicable reason, you haven't been following A Very English Scandal, the final episode is on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm, and the first two episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer. If you're squeamish about scenes involving blokes snogging or biting pillows, there is some of that, true, but it doesn't last long. There's also - as far as I can tell - a refreshing absence of any of the BBC's standard pro-LGBT propaganda: heterosexuals won't end up feeling it's somehow all our fault. If you still  need a nudge, here's an appetite-whetting trailer:

1 comment: