The first episode of A Very English Scandal was nothing short of exemplary television. The three-part drama, which is based on true events, details the relationship between Liberal Party MP Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) and his lover, Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw) — as well as the events that follow. The very (very, very) thrilling first part culminated with Jeremy coming to the decision that Norman must be killed. Well, that certainly escalated quickly, huh? But, whether it was Russell T Davies’ wonderful lines or Hugh Grant’s nonchalant delivery of them, the scene did its job and left us wanting more.
Much like the first episode, a lot of ground is covered in Episode 2, with the focus primarily being on Jeremy’s plan to get rid of his former lover — a plot which unintentionally spans nearly a decade. Some of the series’ content — like this insane plan, for instance — is so outrageous that it’s easy to forget we’re dealing with real-life events here, but it’s all executed in a believable way.
As per usual, Davies’ script is magnificent. The ease at which he blends comedy and drama together is indescribable. No matter how bleak the situation or serious the subject matter, the Queer as Folk writer manages to injects humour into any narrative, and the results are always spectacular. Additionally, the dialogue is wonderfully witty throughout and the conflict — both internal and external — is excellently conveyed.
While the first episode focused on Jeremy’s life after the relationship, Episode 2 shifts focus to Norman. Unfortunately, the young man’s story — following his relationship with Jeremy — is somewhat tragic. All these years later and he’s still struggling to find employment because he hasn’t got a National Insurance card. This is the root of all his problems — a problem that can be traced back to Jeremy. Whishaw deserves heaps of praise for his portrayal of Norman. He truly shines in Norman’s tragedy.
After a failed marriage and a baby, Norman finds himself in Wales where he meets Gwen (Eve Myles). Gwen encourages him to confront his problems, and she happens to know Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson (Jason Watkins) — a man who, according to Jeremy, desperately wants his job. The conflict of interest here is again superbly executed by Davies.
What is perhaps the most hilarious part of this story is how Jeremy discovers that his plan to kill Norman has failed. Years after he initially suggested the idea, the Liberal Party MP just happens to be in the same location as his former lover, and sees him riding by on horseback. Brilliant. Disgruntled, Jeremy once again sets another plan in motion to take out Norman. He’s relentless because he has everything to lose — something that instantly comes across every time we see Grant in character.
It’s another strong episode for A Very English Scandal.
But with acting powerhouses like Grant and Whishaw leading the cast, and Davies’ script taking centre stage, it was destined to a be a success from the start. Not forgetting Dominic Treadwell-Collins, of course, who serves as executive producer. Treadwell-Collins was arguably the best executive producer EastEnders has ever seen — the storylines he oversaw and the characters he created are among some of the soap’s greatest, so his involvement in A Very English Scandal was always going to mean good things for the three-parter. Additionally, Stephen Frears’ directing is top-notch, and Murray Gold’s score helps to build the tension throughout.
A Very English Scandal is main event television and, unfortunately, series’ of this quality are few and far between these days. The concluding part is imminent, and while excited to see how the story will end, there’s a melancholic overtone because we’ll be bidding farewell to this excellent piece of television.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson
A Very English Scandal continues Sundays at 9:00pm on BBC One.