There is a certain irony in the fact that, of all the figures involved in the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, one of the only people to outlive him is the very man he allegedly tried to kill: Norman Scott.
A Very English Scandal centres around disgraced Liberal Party leader Thorpe, who in 1979 was put on trial for conspiring to murder his secret gay lover, Scott.
The assassination attempt failed spectacularly due to the hired hitman’s phobia of dogs: he decided to kill Scott’s Great Dane, Rinka, first – then, as he turned the gun on Scott, it jammed.
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But Thorpe was acquitted of conspiracy to murder, while Scott was made a laughing stock by the judge presiding over the case – who described him as a “fraud”, a “sponger”, a “whiner” and a “parasite” – and the sensationalist 1970s British press.
It has been suggested that A Very English Scandal “will run almost as a second trial for Scott, four decades on, with a more sympathetic jury”. Indeed, Scott – who is now 78 and lives with eight dogs, no less – has seen the drama and was apparently “very moved” by it.
Russell T Davies, who penned the script, said: “We did take it to Norman and show him. The BBC showed it not for his approval – Norman Scott had no say in it and no right to change anything in the script – but as a mark of respect and due diligence, it felt fair to show it to him. He loved it and was very moved by it.”
Director Stephen Frears added: “He was very pleased, he laughed and cried.”
Ben Whishaw, who plays Scott, met with him to get a feel of his “temperament” and inform his performance. “He would sit there in makeup texting back and forth with the man he was playing,” said Hugh Grant, who stars as Thorpe. “I think they got on quite well.”
On what he believes Scott’s hopes were for the series, Whishaw said: “I think this was a very big part of his life, so he just wanted it to be told properly.
“He was treated so badly by the press back in the day that public opinion seemed to be so strongly against him. [This series] is a chance to set the record straight to some degree and give his side of the story, perhaps.”
Whishaw said he felt the weight of doing justice to Scott, but that dramatic license was also important. “I did feel a responsibility and at the same time I think any time you do something that’s based on real events you have to accept that it becomes a kind of fiction…
“Fortunately, we had this incredible script so you’re just trying to do the script justice. You can’t think much beyond that. But there is a responsibility and I felt a connection to Norman and I wanted for him to like it. Thankfully he does, we’re told.”
This article was originally published on 27 May 2018