A dramatisation of the Profumo Scandal of the early 60’s, Scandal is a stylish and well acted evocation of the time and excellently focuses on the nature of guilt and a powder keg situation and who suffers and rises as a result of it.
In 1959, society osteopath and charming man Stephen Ward( John Hurt) meets the beautiful young showgirl by the name of Christine Keeler(Joanne Whalley-Kilmer). Immediately entranced, he asks her to live with him and she accepts. Their relationship is mainly platonic as he schools her in the art of moving in higher circles to which he aspires. After a makeover, Christine is ready for the future as Ward introduces her to wealthy gentlemen who she can spend the night with. Joining her is the saucy and fun loving fellow showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies(Bridget Fonda), who goes along with the fun of the time and enjoys the attention. At first, the girls are in it for the fun and Stephen is their sponsor as they share the beds of powerful men and he hears details. Keeler in particular is between the sheets with most notably Minister of War, John Profumo( Ian McKellen) and alleged spy Eugene Ivanov( Jeroen Krabbé) . An inevitable fallout begins when Christine feels used by the whole situation and you can see that Ward is realising he is out of his depth. Scandal engulfs everyone when an angry and dejected Christine sells the story to the papers, setting off a tragic set of events that brings down the Conservative Government and embarrasses the Establishment in the early 1960’s.
Michael Caton-Jones has the right feel for the time where you can sense that times were for the changing and the Sexual Revolution was about to explode. We also get insights into the people behind the headlines and a bit of insight into this revealing affair that captured everyone. Parts of the film drag on occasion and can get a bit dull, but the dark second half more than makes up for any langurs. I would have liked to have seen some characters a little more such as Profumo and , but when they were on screen they were good to view. A tiny bit of expansion is what I wanted just a bit more of, though I understand that the story was mainly focused on Ward. Although it deals with affairs and sexual encounters, Scandal isn’t overtly sleazy. Yes there is nudity and some unusual activity going on, but it doesn’t feel cheap and exploitative because of this immensely watchable true story that was quite the event in its day and shook things up on a massive scale. Plus, I think it skewers the whole myth of those higher up in society being above others in terms of decency, when in fact they are just as bad as anyone else. And who can forget the allure of Christine and Mandy getting ready for a night out; eyeliner going on and stockings being applied, to the sound of ‘Apache’? On a visual level, the glamour and chance of new promise that started with the 60’s is rendered beautifully.
The ever excellent John Hurt turns in one of his most underrated performances as the eventual scapegoat in the spiralling situation. While Ward was no angel, he was used as whipping boy and discarded by the friends in high society who themselves were far from lily white. John Hurt masterfully plays to the flaws of this charming man, but finds sympathy to his eventual fate that befell Ward, who paid for his attempts to move in the right circles. It’s a hard act to pull off, but Hurt does it with considerable skill in finding the lonely heart of a man undone by his actions and given the lions share of blame. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer project a feeling of naive innocence to start and then progress to unearth a sexy and alluring confidence. Whalley-Kilmer is a sensual presence on screen with her dark hair and doe eyes shining. Her biggest triumph is the mystery she encapsulates when playing Keeler; sometimes you are unsure of what she is thinking or likely to do. Through subtle flashes, we view a young woman at the centre of controversy and reacting in all sorts of ways to it.
A wonderfully and impeccably cast Bridget Fonda is a high point; clearly savouring her role as the sexy Mandy with whom Christine finds herself friends with. She’s got the confidence, razor sharp wit and slinky glamour that is superbly put to great use. It’s her who gets the humour and good lines in Scandal and makes the most of them. Although I would have liked to have seen more of him, Ian McKellen is reliably good as Profumo, showing a man paying for his desires and jeopardising everything he’s worked for in return for the company of a beautiful young woman. The same can be said of Jeroen Krabbé, though it’s Mckellen who emerges as the most interesting of the two. A sexy supporting part is afforded to Britt Ekland, who is a stunning beauty and makes the most of her short time on screen.
A well directed and well cast look at The Profumo Affair, Scandal is intriguing and inviting in its exploration of culpability and Parliamentary ruin.