Review: Anatomy of a Scandal, privilege and power prevail

Michelle Dockery in Anatomy of a Scandal

Anatomy of a Scandal is one of several British series out now with scandal in the title. This series is mostly female behind the scenes. S.J. Clarkson (a woman) directed the series created and written by Melissa James Gibson and David E. Kelley. It was based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Vaughan.

Anatomy of a Scandal is a rape trial story. I’ll spoil the ending right now by telling you in this “he said, she said” trial, the man is the one the jury believed.

Let’s back up and look at the story. James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend), a Member of Parliament, comes home one night to tell his wife he’s been having an affair with an aide, Olivia (Naomi Scott). Olivia accused him of rape. In six episodes, we learn almost nothing about Olivia. Everything happens through James’s side of the story. Is Olivia a liar? We don’t know. But we know James is a liar – we see many examples of that.

Sophie Whitehouse (Sienna Miller) is James’s wife. They have two children. Sophie decides to stick by his side through the trial. His very competent counsel is Angela Regan (Josette Simon).

The prosecution counsel is Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery). Kate we get to know quite well. She’s got secrets of her own which I won’t spoil because it’s a nice twist. She has a bright young assistant, Maggie (Kudzai Sitima), and a good friend from her university days, Ali (Liz White).

What all these characters did at university plays into the story. We flash back 20 years frequently to see the history of these people who now hold important positions in British society. A woman Sophie knew well at Oxford, Holly Berry, comes to light during the trial as also accusing James of rape. Except Holly Berry can’t be found to substantiate the claim.

The three central characters, James, Sophia, and Kate were outstandingly played by the actors. The consequences of the trial affected all three of them. It didn’t end with the verdict I hoped, but there were other consequences that worked for me.

Thematically, I thought the points about power and privilege were well made. Perhaps the ending wasn’t what I wanted, but there was a message in the series. Society may trend toward justice, but that trend isn’t always a smooth upward climb. Overall the series was a bit above average because of the performances, especially Michelle Dockery’s work.

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