By Erin Waks
Content Warning: This article discusses rape and sexual assault.
*This article contains spoilers*
Netflix’s new series, Anatomy of a Scandal, is equal parts exciting, gripping and emotionally intense. Based on the novel with the same title, the series explores the trial of British Conservative MP, James Whitehouse, who has been accused of raping his aide, with whom he had a romantic affair. Sophie Whitehouse, his seemingly perfect and well-groomed wife, must grapple both with her husband’s betrayal and the consequences of the legal procedures on her husband’s reputation and her life.
As Sophie watches her life crumble around her, director S. J. Clarkson brings to light her love-story with her husband, and its subsequent derailment. Featuring scenes from their time at Oxford, to an in-depth exploration of their supposedly flawless relationship, the series demonstrates the hidden darkness which resides just beneath the surface of a marriage.
More disturbing is the series’ presentation, and almost glorification, of Oxford’s elite men’s clubs. Reminiscent of films like Riot Club, and indeed even contemporary scandals surrounding the multitude of British government officials who attended elite schools and universities, Anatomy of a Scandal depicts the dark truth that lies behind a mask of wealth, nepotism, and privilege. The show manages to capture the real, life-destroying arrogance that fosters in environments such as these, even when the individuals carry themselves in a reputable, respectable manner.
We are introduced to the dangerous, predatory side of James Whitehouse’s character. Full of ambiguity and confusion, the audience is left questioning who to believe. As cracks appear in the Whitehouse’s marriage, we see Sophie’s increasing distrust in her husband, increasingly doubting whether he is as innocent as he claims to be. As we follow flashbacks to the couple’s past, we uncover a web of drug abuse, violence, and sexual harassment which underpins James’ youth. The lies he has spun, with the unknowing help of Sophie, culminate in the dramatic revelation of the show: the prosecutor of his case is a woman he raped during his time at Oxford.
Much credit must be given to the cast of the show. Sienna Miller as Sophie Whitehouse stuns, with a depth of emotion that renders her character all the more realistic and complex. Additionally, Michelle Dockery as Kate Woodcroft QC provides an excellent counterpoint to Miller’s faith in her husband. However, most dazzling is Rupert Friend, starring as James Whitehouse himself. Few actors have the skill required to play a protagonist so simultaneously believable yet untrustworthy; he manages to create both trust and doubt, both dislike and respect.
Painfully poignant, Anatomy of a Scandal is amongst the best of modern British television. It is a must-watch and will leave you considering its terrifyingly real implications.
Image: Marcin Nowak via Unsplash