Written by Russell T Davies, A Very English Scandal tells the extraordinary true story of Jeremy Thorpe MP – the first British politician to stand trial for conspiracy to murder – and his ex-lover Norman Scott.
Here are the characters you need to meet – and the actors who play them…
Hugh Grant plays Jeremy Thorpe
Who was Jeremy Thorpe? A British politician who was tried at the Old Bailey on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder. The alleged victim was Norman Scott, a former model and his ex-lover. Jeremy Thorpe MP was the Leader of the Liberal Party and had great political ambitions, but lived in fear of discovery of his homosexual affairs – and of his history with Scott in particular.
What else has Hugh Grant been in? Best known for his comic roles, Hugh Grant’s memorable movies include Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sense and Sensibility and Love Actually. In A Very English Scandal he reunites with his Paddington 2 co-star Ben Whishaw; Grant played the devious Phoenix Buchanan in the 2017 movie.
Ben Whishaw plays Norman Scott
Who is Norman Scott? Originally known as Norman Josiffe, Scott met Thorpe in 1961 when he was just 21 and working as a groom. A troubled young man with a fondness for animals, no family, no money and a history of mental illness, he appealed to Thorpe for help when things went wrong – and the two men began an affair. But things turned sour.
The real Norman Scott is one of the only people involved in the Thorpe affair who is still alive. He is now 78.
What else has Ben Whishaw been in? You may recognise Ben Whishaw as tech genius and inventor Q from the James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre. And if he sounds familiar, that’s probably because he is the voice of Paddington. Other film credits include Brideshead Revisited, Cloud Atlas, Suffragette, and The Danish Girl. On TV he was Danny in London Spy.
Alex Jennings plays Peter Bessell
Who was Peter Bessell? One of the key players in the story is Peter Bessell MP, a Liberal politician who was Thorpe’s confidante and right-hand man. He was one of the few people who knew the full truth about Thorpe’s homosexual affairs, and after hearing about the Scott problem in the mid-sixties he became an intermediary between the two men. He witnessed Thorpe allegedly inciting his ex-lover’s murder.
A womaniser and a chancer with a string of failed businesses, he had a complex relationship with Thorpe and ultimately testified against him at the trial.
What else has Alex Jennings been in? If you watch any period dramas, you’ve probably seen Alex Jennings as either an aristocrat or a royal. The actor plays King Leopold in Victoria, and spent the first two seasons of The Crown lurking around as the Duke of Windsor. He’s also played Prince Charles in The Queen.
Patricia Hodge plays Ursula Thorpe
Who was Ursula Thorpe? Jeremy Thorpe’s mother. A wealthy, formidable woman and a devoted Conservative, she wore a monocle and smoked cigars and ate a lot of boiled eggs. She was also determined to do anything she could to advance her son’s career.
What else has Patricia Hodge been in? When she’s not been on stage winning Olivier Awards, Patricia Hodge has appeared on our screens as Penny in the TV series Miranda and Mrs Pelham in Downton Abbey. She earned a Bafta nomination for her role in Hotel du Lac.
Blake Harrison plays Andrew Newton
Who was Andrew Newton? The small-time aeroplane pilot who, after 16 pints, allegedly agreed to kill Scott for £10,000. Nicknamed “Chicken-brain” by his friends, he only managed to shoot his intended victim’s dog, a Great Dane named Rinka.
What else has Blake Harrison been in? To members of a certain generation, Blake Harrison will be forever known as Neil Sutherland from The Inbetweeners. Since the sitcom wrapped up he’s played Karl in Jodie Whittaker drama Trust Me, DS Spencer Gibbs in Prime Suspect 1973 and Dave in The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.
Monica Dolan plays Marion Thorpe
Who was Marion Thorpe? Jeremy Thorpe married Austrian concert pianist Marion Stein (the Countess of Harewood) a few years after the death of his first wife Caroline Allpass in a car crash. Marion was formidable and loyal, standing by his side throughout the trial and for the rest of his life.
What else has Monica Dolan been in? The actress starred in W1A as Tracey Pritchard. She was Tess Wall in The Casual Vacancy, Alice More in Wolf Hall, and Janet McIntyre in Agatha Christie adaptation The Witness for the Prosecution.
Paul Freeman plays Sir Joseph Cantley
Who was Sir Joseph Cantley? The Honourable Sir Joseph Donaldson Cantley was so little-known outside the legal world when he was selected to preside over Thorpe’s trial that none of the news agencies had a picture of him on file. He was considered an establishment man and a bit of a snob and his summing up has become infamous, later spoofed by Peter Cook.
What else has Paul Freeman been in? If Paul Freeman’s face looks familiar, that’s probably because he has appeared in everything – even though he’s not a household name. He was the villain Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Rev Philip Shooter in Hot Fuzz, and The Architect in Da Vinci’s Demons. He played Andrew Booth in Monarch of the Glen, and Professor Moriarty in Michael Caine comedy Without a Clue. Interestingly, the role of Joseph Cantley was first offered to Sir Ian McKellen, according to director Stephen Frears.
Jonathan Hyde plays David Napley
Who was David Napley? Jeremy Thorpe’s solicitor.
What else has Jonathan Hyde been in? One of the Australian actor’s most memorable roles was Van Pelt (or Sam Parrish) in Jumanji. Recent projects have included Tokyo Trial, The Strain and MI-5. He played Martin Charteris in The Queen, a role later played by Harry Haddon-Paton in The Crown.
Adrian Scarborough plays George Carman QC
Who was George Carman QC? Jeremy Thorpe’s barrister. Despite his heavy drinking lifestyle, he put on an impressive performance at the Old Bailey, tearing the prosecution’s witnesses to shreds.
What else has Adrian Scarborough been in? The actor is perhaps best known for his roles in The King’s Speech, Gavin & Stacey, and Upstairs Downstairs – where he played the butler Mr Pritchard. Recently he has appeared in the TV series Blunt Talk and Miranda, and the movie On Chesil Beach.