sat 22/02/2020

The Trial of Christine Keeler, BBC One review - famous sex scandal makes uneven drama | reviews, news & interviews

The Trial of Christine Keeler, BBC One review - famous sex scandal makes uneven drama

The Trial of Christine Keeler, BBC One review - famous sex scandal makes uneven drama

Power, corruption and lies in Sixties London

Fatal attraction: Christine Keeler (Sophie Cookson) and John Profumo (Ben Miles)

One good Sixties brouhaha deserves another. After last year’s triumphant revival of the Jeremy Thorpe affair in A Very English Scandal, here comes the sleazy saga of John Profumo, the Conservative Secretary of State for War who was forced to resign from Harold Macmillan’s government in 1963. The cause of his downfall was his brief affair with model and showgirl Christine Keeler, who was 19 when Profumo first met her.

Amanda Coe is the screenwriter du jour, though it’s hard to see how the story has been made to stretch across its allotted six episodes. The first two instalments (on Sunday and Monday night) lay the groundwork, introducing us to Keeler and her teenage friend Mandy Rice-Davies, their creepy pimp/patron/enabler Stephen Ward, and the ways in which they intersected with Profumo and his powerful and wealthy friends.

The single image that most memorably crystallises the affair is Lewis Morley’s famous photograph of the naked Keeler astride an Arne Jacobsen chair – though, aptly for the story’s tawdry tone, it was only a copy of an Arne Jacobsen chair – but that is yet to come in this version. Posterity has done its best to position Keeler as a kind of anti-icon of a Sixties about to swing, perhaps the precursor to bold Sixties women such as Anita Pallenberg or Jean Shrimpton. The appearance on the soundtrack of the Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man” seemed to support this notion, though the fact that the song wasn’t released until four years after the events being portrayed hints at various kinds of tone deafness in the production.

James Norton in The Trial of Christine KeelerThe Keeler who has so far emerged from Coe’s narrative is a rather sad and desperate figure. Having grown up in the Berkshire village of Wraysbury with her mother and stepfather, she began working as a model in Soho at 15. At 16 she had a baby (after trying to abort it using a pen), which only survived for a few days. She was later hired as a topless dancer in Murray’s Cabaret Club, and met Profumo at Lord Astor’s Cliveden estate, where she’d been taken by Ward, an osteopath to the rich and famous.

Portrayed here by James Norton (pictured above), Ward is a louche social parasite, slithering his way up the ladder by putting together assorted influential personalities from his base at his Wimpole Mews apartment in Marylebone. Among his circle of useful acquaintances is the Russian diplomat Eugene Ivanov (Visar Vishka), and it was the fact that Profumo and Ivanov (an undercover Soviet intelligence agent) came to share Keeler’s services which rang alarm bells with the security services. Ward’s own possible connections with MI5 remain nebulous.

However, whereas Russell T Davies’s screenplay for A Very English Scandal glittered with wit, irony and insight, the characters in this dramatisation are nowhere near as interesting as the historical myths surrounding them. Ben Miles plays Profumo as a cynical and charmless middle-aged lecher, too cocooned in his own self-regard to realise that his extra-curricular activities are about to bring the ceiling down on his career as tabloid newspapers come in for the kill. Emilia Fox plays his wife, the actress Valerie Hobson, with what seems to be a tacit tolerance of her husband’s activities which doesn’t ring true. So far, Sophie Cookson’s Keeler lacks the nous and personal magnetism which the real-life version evidently projected, and just looks like an angry and confused teenage casualty. But maybe it all changes in the later episodes.

The characters in this dramatisation are nowhere near as interesting as the historical myths surrounding them

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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