Anatomy Of A Scandal Review

The Plot

After public revelations of an affair, a prominent politician and his wife are swiftly plunged into even greater drama when more damning allegations find him on trial in court accused of rape.

The Good

Framing this drama around a court case instantly gives this series a convenient narrative structure and offers the absolute certainty of a definitive outcome. The inescapable desire to uncover that result is easily enough to make viewers enthusiastically binge through six episodes of fraught courtroom drama.   

Homeland star Rupert Friend does a magnificent job of bending his performance to portray the many different versions of his character that the story presents. At times he’s a mostly well intentioned man fighting to salvage his marriage and career from the hyperbolic fallout of his selfish indiscretions, while at others he’s a shamelessly predatory political monster oozing arrogance. Repeatedly exploring scenes from different perspectives, he adeptly convinces as both, keeping audiences guessing for much of the series about his ‘true nature’.

Alongside Friend’s central antagonist a trio of star turns from Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery and Naomi Scott breathe compelling life into the traumatized wife, determined lawyer and lover turned accuser each respectively fighting to expose that truth. Their earnest and effective performances allows the series to sustain much of its suspense and drama.

Notable supporting turns from Josette Simon and Joshua McGuire also helps the series deliver credible legal and political tension. Josette Simon’s defence barrister is a perfect counter to Michelle Dockery’s ‘righteous anger’ in court, while Joshua McGuire’s unapologetically odious spin doctor is a fractious thorn in the side of Sienna Miller’s efforts to cling onto a rose tinted view of her once devoted and inspiring husband.

Arguably the series greatest success is that it consciously avoids allowing audiences to second guess the outcomes of the trial or each characters individual journeys for as long as possible. By jumping back and forth between events of the past and present day as experienced form different characters perspectives, the series presents a far more ambiguous and interesting dilemma. To at least some extent it manages to force audiences to avoid becoming too complacent in their initial expectations and pre-existing prejudices.

That knowingly jumbled uncertainty compels audiences to watch all the way to the final scenes and even then will likely leave them with some provocative lingering questions about the true nature of privilege, power and the unreliable perspective we have on our own actions.

The Bad

Five years of relentless public debate and numerous self-reflective tv/film dramas addressing the MeToo movement sadly robs this series of much of its potential impact and originality. In particular critically acclaimed series like Liar and National Treasure have already expertly explored the complex and compelling themes of he said/she said courtroom battles. Those productions and copious real life drama may leave this specific series feeling somewhat overly familiar and a little more redundant than it probably should.

While Anatomy of a Scandal starts out as a fairly grounded and realistic dissection of real life questions of power, privilege and politics; it ultimately resorts to increasingly implausible twists and turns in order to sustain an ever escalating sense of sensational drama. Arguable injecting that shock value into proceedings sacrifices credibility in favour of a more entertaining but silly melodrama.

While the series also purposefully paints all its characters in murky shades of grey, undoubtedly some audiences may find it consequently more difficult to emotionally invest any of them. The series doesn’t offer audiences the convenient escapism of clearly defined heroes and villains. Instead it perhaps uncomfortably reminds us of a grim reality where everyone seems almost equally flawed, selfish and hypocritical. It’s a deeply cynical portrait that might not be especially welcome or entertaining for many.

It’s also true that while the gifted cast perform well, they’re still tied to a script largely built upon fairly heavy handed stereotypes. Of course many would argue that unapologetically debauched politicians, sneering spin doctors or cynically ruthless lawyers are undeniably part of real life. However there’s a fine line between piercing portrait and clumsy caricature. As the series proceeds its’ well intentioned eagerness to lash out against any form of privilege and power perhaps forces it to cross that line. It increasingly turns characters into clichés, sacrificing subtly to deliver mostly blunt two dimensional commentary.

While the series also tries hard to purposefully defy expectations with an unpredictable plot, it only manages to achieve this by occasionally veering into more wildly unrealistic territory and ultimately remains otherwise exactly as expected.

The Ugly Truth

Anatomy Of A Sandal is a very deliberately timely slice of courtroom drama that explicitly reflects on some of the most prominent political and social problems of today. An excellent cast, polished production and copious plot twists make it an easy binge watch. It’s also a mostly compelling experience, even if it has been undoubtedly robbed of impact by copious real world introspection and similarly themed recent dramas.

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