Guilty or not guilty? That is the question. And if you’re using it to ask whether or not we found A Very English Scandal highly addictive, then I think it’s safe to say that we’ll gleefully plead guilty to this one. The wonderful three-part drama came to an end this week, and its final instalment is every bit as good as its predecessors. In fact, if at all possible, the final chapter is even wittier than the first two episodes, and that’s of course down to the sheer brilliance of Russell T Davies. I’ve spoken before about the Queer as Folk writer’s wonderful gift of utilising comedy in even the most serious of situations, and he’s done it again here. In Episode 3, the show moves to the most important — and most renowned — part of the story: Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) is put on trial for incitement to murder and conspiracy to murder.
Following Andrew Newton’s (Blake Harrison) attempt on Norman Scott’s (Ben Whishaw) life at the behest of Jeremy, Episode 3 picks up with Norman reporting the incident to the police. Jeremy does his best to keep out of the picture, but there’s not much he can do when two letters — which he’d written to Norman a decade earlier — turn up. And one of those letters features the dreaded word “bunnies.” The quick cuts of several key characters uttering “bunnies” is among the episode’s highlights, as news of Jeremy’s homosexual relationship becomes public knowledge. Side note: Marion Thorpe (Monica Dolan) has quickly become one of the best characters on this show, and her attempts to understand Jeremy’s relationship with Norman stand at a juxtaposition with Caroline’s (Alice Orr-Ewing) reaction to his affair in a previous episode.
The letters help prove that Norman is telling the truth about his relationship with Jeremy, but they do little to prove the Labour MP’s assassination attempt on Norman.
When Peter Bessell’s (Alex Jennings) not-so-brilliantly-hidden folder falls from the ceiling of his old office, the letter that Norman had sent to Jeremy’s mother is revealed to the police. Bessell is brought back to the UK to testify against his best friend in exchange for immunity.
But it is Norman himself who delivers the greatest performance in court. He won’t allow himself to be bullied or berated by the defence attorney, and he stands up for himself — loud and proud. Whishaw is truly electric in this scene. Surprisingly, Norman’s allegations are taken somewhat seriously, despite the time period in which this piece is set, but it is the summing up at the hands of Chief Justice Cantley (Paul Freeman) that represents all that was wrong in society at the time. Homosexuality was no longer a criminal offence at this point time, and even if it had been, Jeremy wasn’t on trial for his gay relationship, he was on trial for attempted murder. Cantley’s biased statements did little to ensure justice, that’s for sure. It’s moments like these — and there are a few throughout — that have you questioning the reality of the story — but this actually happened.
Perhaps it’s the poignant ending that is the best part of the episode though. Thorpe may have come out of the trial the victor, but having the world know such intimate details about him makes it impossible for him to continue working in politics. His mother’s harsh words were true: the scandal “ruined” him. The smile Jeremy puts on for the reporters is the façade and, as his mother’s words settle in, his smile disappears. He might’ve won the battle, but at what cost? The scene is nicely juxtaposed with Norman Scott’s final moments on the show who, despite the loss in court, is seemingly happy about the future.
And with that, we bid farewell to what was undoubtedly one of the best dramas we’ve seen all year. A Very English Scandal is everything that is good about television. It’s smart, witty and incredibly emotional — often all at the same time. Davies is truly a force to be reckoned with, and I hope his work continues to bless our screens for years to come. The acting is top-notch. Both Grant and Whishaw give the performances of their lives in this episode. Murray Gold’s catchy score echoes throughout the trial and, as is the case with much of his work, it complements the respective scenes perfectly. The brilliant Dominic Treadwell-Collins has truly done a wonderful job as executive producer. Is it too early to start talking awards? Because A Very English Scandal is worthy, that’s for sure. A masterpiece from start to finish.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson