Why A Very English Scandal should win every award going

"Fill up the trophy cabinets of Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw and Russell T Davies with a bunch of silverware because this is proper quality TV," says Eleanor Bley Griffiths

A Very English Scandal

Wasn’t it brilliant? Wasn’t it just an all-round fantastic drama? Throw all the awards at it: acting, directing, writing, costumes, music, everything. Fill up the trophy cabinets of Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw and Russell T Davies with a bunch of silverware because this is proper quality TV.

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It would be trite to say that Hugh Grant is a revelation. But the return of the movie star to the world of British television has certainly been glorious. The way he can slip between comedy and cruelty so quickly! The emotion that man can portray in the twitch of a cheek!

Fresh in my mind is that scene in which he stands on the balcony toasting his acquittal with champagne as photographers clustered beneath, grinning wildly and performing for the cameras. But after a cruel word in his ear from his limpid mother Ursula, the smile falls from his eyes – even as it stays on his lips. Oof.

And what a story! The absurdity of the situation makes it ripe for comedy – but Davies has achieved something extraordinary by adapting it for TV with such sensitivity. There are moments that make you snort with laughter (Whishaw and Grant both have superb comic timing) but also moments that remind you that these were real men at the centre of the media storm.

BBC, TL

There are powerful and dramatic scenes at the Old Bailey, but this is more than a courtroom drama. It’s a huge story to tell across three episodes, taking us from Westminster to Blackpool to Ireland and from Exmoor to Oceanside to Devon, and spanning seventeen years – and involving a huge cast of characters. But somehow Davies has navigated the whole complex story with a deftness and a lightness of touch.

Part of that is down to music: for three weeks I’ve been humming the theme, which suits all moods –from farce to fear to dread to victory. Bafta-nominated composer Murray Gold’s buoyant score ties the whole thing together. Producer Dan Winch and Stephen Frears have also managed to get the drama’s look and mood spot-on.

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This also seems a good time to bring this story back and look at it through the lens of 2018. Davies clearly had this in mind, too: he has Scott declare from the witness box, “all the history books get written with men like me missing. So yes I will talk, I will be heard and I will be seen.”

Thorpe’s trial took place barely a dozen years after the (limited) decriminalisation of sex between men, and when Scott and Thorpe first met it was against the law. In the years since then, attitudes towards homosexuality have vastly shifted; so have our attitudes towards politicians, who get less deference and respect these days. What does the case look like now?

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Scott didn’t get to see Thorpe found guilty. But all these decades later, Davies has told his story. And as the real Norman Scott poses with a dog outside his rural home, the final line flashed up on the screen to give us one last laugh at this strange event in British history: “He still hasn’t got his National Insurance card.”


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