A star rating of 2 out of 5.

A member of the government facing consequences for their reported actions? Netflix has classed its latest miniseries Anatomy of a Scandal as both a psychological thriller and courtroom drama, but it requires as much suspension of disbelief as its sci-fi fantasies.


The scandal in this six-part adaptation of Sarah Vaughan's 2018 novel of the same name centres on James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend), a junior Tory minister who we're constantly told has the full package.

"The most naturally gifted politician on our side of the chamber," claims Prime Minister Tom Southern (Geoffrey Streatfeild) after finding out that his long-time friend has also now placed first on the website 'sexyMP.co.uk'.

We even see James convincingly pretending to care about a pensioner's pelican crossing complaint at a constituency meeting.

But his picture-perfect world, which also includes a country mansion, two kids and university sweetheart wife who looks a lot like Sienna Miller, begins to collapse in on him when news breaks of a five-month affair with a parliamentary researcher.

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"Deflect and dismiss but never deny," the MP is advised by a smarmy, foul-mouthed comms director (Joshua McGuire) who could have been plucked straight from The Thick of It. But their efforts to limit the damage falter when the other woman then accuses him of rape.

Naomi Scott as Olivia Lytton holding a drink while talking to someone in Anatomy of a Scandal
Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott) Netflix

As a trial ensues, Anatomy interestingly focuses just as much on the prosecuting barrister Kate (Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery at her steeliest), who is harbouring a deep dark secret of her own, as it does the accused – and even more than on the accuser: Naomi Scott's screentime as Olivia is pretty much restricted to a harrowing testimonial which shines a spotlight on how the British judicial system tackles the issue of consent.

Formerly a political correspondent for The Guardian, Vaughan drew upon her own experiences of Whitehall culture in her Sunday Times bestseller – so you'd think, then, that this would lend an authenticity to the various encounters that take place in the literal corridors of power. But it's difficult to imagine any of the words in Melissa James Gibson and Kelley's script being spoken by real humans.

Yes, that's the David E Kelley, the American TV powerhouse who's mastered the art of both the legal drama (The Practice, Ally McBeal) and marriage-imploding thriller (Big Little Lies, The Undoing). On paper, Anatomy should have been a home run, but the 11-time Emmy winner saddles its array of deeply unlikeable characters with clunky exposition and the type of melodramatic dialogue you'd expect from Mills and Boon.

"We were hungry for one another," James tells the court in one glaring example.

Michelle Dockery as criminal barrister Kate Woodcroft stood in a courtroom in Anatomy of a Scandal
Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) Netflix

Anatomy's aesthetics are equally hackneyed. Most episodes conclude with a slow-motion out-of-body experience – James is blasted 10 feet backwards on learning about the rape charge; Miller's Sophie suffers a Hitchcockian fall from the stairs after hearing Olivia's declaration of love, which also borders on the comical.

The visual blurring between the past and the present, meanwhile, is overdone to dizzying levels, and there's a general flatness to the cinematography in keeping with the house style of Netflix's recent spate of British crime dramas.

As with the similarly-themed A Very British Scandal, Anatomy was conceived as an anthology series designed to explore a different class-based injustice each season. But with Netflix execs becoming more ruthless than ever (see the recent fates of The Baby-Sitters Club and Archive 81), there's a strong chance this soapy, clichéd first chapter will also be its last.

Anatomy of a Scandal premieres on Netflix on Friday 8th April. Check out our Drama hub for all the latest news. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.


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