Sophie Whitehouse could handle her husband’s business. After all, it was just sex, a mistake, as James Whitehouse insists. He regrets. Also publicly, because someone like him doesn’t need a scandal. After all, the family mantra, which his kids enthusiastically repeat, is, “We’re white houses. And they always win.” So Sophie Whitehouse grits her teeth and stands by her husband’s side, after all, they’ve been married for twelve years. She only looks into the merits when James Whitehouse’s associate, Olivia Lytten, reports him for rape. It’s about the process. And that’s the heart of the new Netflix series Anatomy of a Scandal.
The trial slowly crumbles the life of Sophie Whitehouse. Little by little, she must ask herself if her husband is really who she thought he was. “But he’s a good man,” she told the nanny. “He’s a man,” replies the latter.
From the outside, everything seemed perfect: James Whitehouse is a member of the British Parliament and a close confidant of the Prime Minister, with whom he studied at Oxford. He also met Sophie there. In flashbacks, he is seen as part of a couple of otherworldly puppies (“Let’s not drink the champagne, let’s waste it!”) and she as a party girl who is actually studying English literature. Here and now, they both look outrageously beautiful, their two adorable children have a nanny, their clothes are beautiful, the apartment is luxurious. British upper class.
Sienna Miller had a similar experience when she broke off her engagement to Jude Law in 2005
Anatomy of a Scandal is superbly cast: Sienna Miller plays Sophie Whitehouse in a calm and confident manner. She takes her husband’s confession with shocking calm and restraint. It is only later that she vomits on the cell phone, on which she has just googled photos of her husband’s lover. Rinse mouth, wipe, done. Only very delicately does it allude to how Sophie has growing doubts about James’ integrity. Miller has had similar experiences to his character. In 2005, she broke off her engagement to actor Jude Law after it was revealed he had cheated on her with his children’s nanny. At first, she was hesitant to accept the role, she tells the vanity loungebut then she would have been irritated that Sophie had reacted so completely differently to herself. Rupert Friend (country) James Whitehouse also plays beautifully – mean, arrogant and with a healthy dose of disgust. A spoiled rich kid who never learned to take no.
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And then there’s the cool, almost oppressive lawyer Kate Woodcroft, brilliantly played by Michelle Dockery (Dowton Abbey). She hears in the best British English Complainant and accused, digs deeper, gets angry, relentlessly asks for every detail. “And what happened then?” And a smile, so friendly, as if she weren’t asking about the torn underwear but asking for a glass of milk. These are the best scenes because they show how differently a situation can be perceived, interpreted and remembered by those involved.
Sarah Vaughan, who wrote the novel, was a journalist for eleven years Guardians. She often attended trials there, in which privileged people were also in the dock. She denies a direct resemblance between James Whitehouse and Boris Johnson, but an interview with Johnson left a lasting impression on her: The truth, she says Harper’s Bazaar, is extremely malleable for Johnson. And that inspired her to write her book.
Visually, the series is brilliant, the material, the costumes, the light. However, some absurd effects disrupt the plot. Sometimes James is thrown out of nowhere like someone punched him in the stomach, sometimes Sophie falls into the Parliament building.
Otherwise, there is a lot of present: a “Me Too” scandal, politicians without a moral compass – one feels called back to the door of Boris Johnson’s party – a family under the fire of a sensationalist press, a woman in crisis. And, if only marginally, the Queen. Some English critics criticize that little is known about Olivia Lytten, the alleged victim. But the focus here is shifted – on the perception of the woman, on the damage in the relationship. In the end, it all comes down to the truth and how it can be interpreted differently in a marriage. Over a drink, James asks his colleague Olivia what she’s learned in her office so far. His answer: “How to lie.”
Anatomy of a Scandal, six episodes, on Netflix.
You can find more series recommendations here.