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Wednesday, 15 September 2010
Released for the first time on DVD Scandal (1989) is the compelling story of the original sex scandal and the two young ladies that helped bring down Harold Macmillan’s Tory government (how badly we need another Christine Keeler at this moment?) and how it completely changed the media landscape. Based on the Profumo affair of 1963 this movie is a modern British classic, a fascinating story even today. Susie Figgis casting is absolutely spot on with John Hurt as the social climbing Stephan Ward, Joanne Whalley as the beautiful femme fatale Christine Keeler and Bridget Fonda as the gorgeously playful 16 year-old Mandy Rice-Davies. The secretary of State for War John Profumo is played by Ian McKellen, plus a great array of well known actors and actresses cast as other important characters in this absorbing true story.
Mandy and Christine
Scandal certainly lives up to its title and with its highly politicised subject matter that would have been a problem to make even today. Based at the dawn of the permissive age and at a time when the lives of politicians and celebrities first became public property the film gets behind the head lines and tells an intriguing story of modern British history. Originally to be directed by Stephan Frears it was the Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones, his debut film, who was eventually given the job by the vibrant young independent production company Palace Productions, who were also responsibility for Mona Lisa (1986) and The Crying Game (1992). Initially planned as a TV mini series but unable to raise the finance because of the pressure from the Tory party, Profumo being a good friend Margaret Thatcher, it was then decided it would be easier to fund as a feature film. A cut and paste job was done on Michael Thomas’s script to reduce it from its four hour plus running time to under two hours.
John Profumo and Christine Keeler
No one had looked at the story from Stephan Wards prospective until Michael Thomas’s script revaluated the complete affair. Even before the film commenced production the British establishment thought it ‘bad form’ to meddle with their version of history. Ward was a victim who was made a scapegoat, with the Denning report, wrongly, putting the blame squarely on Ward shoulders. Casting the part of John Profumo was a big problem as actors of the right age and stature were scared they would loose their chance of a knighthood if they accepted, finally Ian McKellen agreed to play the part, and incidentally he still received his knighthood! The casting of Ward was not a difficult choice as John Hurt was a dead ringer for the osteopath he has since said it is his favourite role. But the movie would not have been made unless Joanne Whalley could be persuaded to play the part of Christine Keeler; Hurt said that she was magnificent, easy to work with and more than capable of portraying Christine’s lack of defence and the extremes of her nature. Whalley would not appear in the nude and a body double had to be used for the famous swimming pool scene when Christine first meets Profumo.
This movie, as I said previously, is a modern British classic, brilliant acting, first class direction, and a great soundtrack including my favourite Dusty Springfield track, written by the Pet Shop Boys, playing over the closing credits. If you have never seen this film it’s now time to put that right.