A Very British Scandal (2021)


Based on a true story, A Very British Scandal follows the tumultuous marriage between two members of the British upper class which ends in the first divorce in English history where the wife “received a drubbing by the press.”

Margaret (Claire Foy) first meets Ian Campbell (Paul Bettany) on a train. The charming, tall, blond man leans forward to confide that he knows who she is, and thinks her husband is a fool, because “if you were mine, I would never let you of my sight.” Intrigued and in the midst of a divorce, she agrees to accompany him to his country seat in Scotland, a glorious but run-down house in need of money, who might sit on a fortune in gold if they can just bring an old wreck up out of the bay. Previous dukes have attempted it, he says mournfully; and in a instant, Margaret makes her up mind: “But you will succeed!”

Before anyone knows it, they’ve gotten engaged, he’s had his current wife (Sophia Myles) sign the divorce papers, she has dumped her own husband to the curb, and become a duchess in his remote castle. Margaret sets about making it a home, while trying not to disappoint her father too much, a man whom she admires very much and who is struggling through the last few years of his terminally ill wife’s life. Ian assures her that the navy is helping him bring up the boat out of mere curiosity’s sake… but then solicitors start calling and bills start piling up on her desk. It seems Ian lied about that, and has run up a vast amount of debt. And if he didn’t tell her the truth about his financial affairs, what else is he hiding? And might Margaret get a little revenge by creating a deception of her own?

The series doesn’t follow the historical case completely, but does a good job of introducing us to a promiscuous woman and then showing us the hell that her life becomes, while married to an abusive, emotionally withdrawn, and purely selfish man. Ian ranges from childish tantrums to violent abuse and emotional cruelty, all the while happily draining her bank account and making her life miserable. So it’s natural that she would seek comfort in another man’s arms! From any kind of a moral perspective, it’s hard to root for them, but I did want her out of that house, and felt appalled at how he mistreated her. And while she’s assured by her lawyers that nothing said in court ever becomes public… that is not the truth and she receives a smear campaign that has haunted her long since her eventual death.

The question of morals is an interesting one; neither of them have it, so how can they expect to ever be happy together? Ian has had three wives and countless mistresses, and she has cheated on every man she has ever been with. The series also doesn’t shy away from her outright nasty behavior, when she manipulates him into thinking his children by his second marriage are not his own! Neither of them is all that likable, yet the series carries us along, investing us in their lives and inviting us to be shocked at their behavior—and it is shocking.

As usual, most of the cast is splendid. Claire is always a treat, and this role is a far cry from her recent stint as the stoic queen, but Paul sends shivers up your spine with his manic moods, threatening gestures, and ice king “glares” across the dinner table. Some of the lesser performers sound wooden, but they don’t get much screen time. And as usual, it’s a sumptuous period piece that features a London long since faded into distant memory, full of flashy cars, dinners out on the town, and affairs hidden behind raised hands. It’s all bit tawdry, which is what you can expect from the source material, and there were rather a lot of f-words for it being set in the 60s.


Sexual Content:

Both main characters have had numerous affairs, and she keeps a diary full of sexual conquest references which is brought up and discussed at length in court. Early on, they attend a dinner party where their hostess brings out her small “battery-operated penis with tiny feet” and has it dance on the table; it’s joined by other ones for a joke. While we don’t see their initial sexual encounter, we do see a later one (clothed, movement, panting) that lasts a little while; plus two more explicit sexual scenes. The infamous photograph that damns her in the press involves her engaging in oral sex; we see her head move below the camera and the man moan, then a photograph of it with the relevant deed “light-flashed out” in a mirror. Ian insists the man in question is not him, and has his penis examined by a doctor (below screen). There’s lots of talk of affairs, sexual escapades, public hair, and being good at sex.



6 abuses of Jesus / Christ’s name, 9 f-words, 3 uses of sh*t, two of arse-hole, 3 references to the male anatomy, 1 bastard, a few uses of bloody and bugger.



In a fit of rage while drunk, Ian throws her onto a bed, climbs on top of her, and tries to strangle her—until a maid rushes in to interrupt them. He also breaks into her house to steal her “sex diary” in the middle of the night, waking her up from sleep and holding her down while his daughter rummages the drawer (terrorizing her).



Lots of social drinking and promiscuity.

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