Sex scandals and politics are a tale as old as time.
The Amazon Prime Original miniseries “A Very English Scandal” follows a historic scandal in the United Kingdom involving British politician and leader of the Liberal Party Jeremy Thorpe and his ex-lover Norman Scott.
To put the storyline into American perspective, think about the Monica Lewinsky and former President Bill Clinton scandal that rocked the White House. Now, on top of the infidelity, add the taboo around homosexuality, and then you’ve got the baseline of this miniseries.
The three-episode series is based on the 2016 nonfiction book of the same name, written by British author, journalist and television critic John Preston.
The series stars Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe, a politician who acknowledges to his fellow closeted friend Peter Bessell (Alex Jennings) that he likes men more than women. Still, he insists he must stay quiet, not only for his career, but because of the societal pressure.
When we first meet Thorpe, he is having a meal with Bessell and informing him that a man named Norman Scott wrote a letter to his mother about the affair that the men had. This leads Bessell to question Thorpe on the validity of this statement and sets the stage for Thorpe to retell the story of his relationship with Scott from beginning to end.
After meeting by chance years before, Scott reached out to Thorpe for help. Scott had quit his job because of his crude boss and needed help getting back on his feet. He asked Thorpe to help him find a place and, most importantly, to get an insurance card for better work opportunities.
The card that Scott so desperately wants throughout the entire series is similar to a Social Security card. It would help provide access to state benefits and allow access to better employment opportunities.
That same card is not given to Scott during his first escapade with Thorpe. Once Thorpe leaves, Scott becomes furious. In his anger, Scott goes to the police to report Thorpe’s “homosexual misconduct.”
According to IMDb, a bill to decriminalize male homosexuality in the U.K. was introduced in the British House of Commons in 1966 but failed to get support. Then a second bill was introduced and passed in 1967 that legalized private homosexual acts between consenting parties over the age of 21 in England and Wales.
During the time after the bill, despite some legalization, even saying the word “gay” was seen as outlandish and inappropriate. Scott knew that a politician who was growing in the ranks would be not only embarrassed but ridiculed if this news came to light.
After the first accusation, Thorpe sends his friend Bessell to Dublin, where Scott had moved, to try to scare Scott off of his crusade for vengeance. To their dismay the intimidation didn’t work, and Scott again reported Thorpe to officials in the hope of getting an insurance card.
Here, the show becomes a game of cat and mouse between the two. Both men are trying to move on and live their lives; Scott wants an insurance card, Thorpe now wants Scott dead so he no longer interferes with his personal and political life. Still, they hold an underlying sense of interest in each other’s lives.
The three episode miniseries feels like an extended movie that has you constantly battling whose side you’re on and how you want things to end for these two men.
What makes the show so riveting is the fact that it is a historical account of an actual event, but rather than telling it as a documentary, the show becomes a serious and juicy drama.
According to Amazon Prime, the development team for this series had to verify any and all potentially controversial details. They have reported several times, despite some questioning, that the key details portrayed in the series are rooted and supported by facts.