Anatomy of a Scandal
Netflix’s latest drama, a star-studded, political courtroom drama, proves to be a well-intentioned misfire from the streaming giant. Anatomy of a Scandal, adapted from the novel of the same name by Sarah Vaughan, comes from the minds behind some of the sharpest dramas on television; with David E Kelley (Big Little Lies) and Melissa James Gibson (known for her tenure as show runner of Netflix’s original political-hit series House of Cards) working behind the scenes, this new series had all the makings of a runaway success, with a starry cast that includes Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery and Rupert Friend. However, it lacks the sharp writing to be a political show with real bite, and, unlike its stellar predecessors, falls uneasily into a category of forgettable dramas that cannot do justice to the concept.
The series starts with James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend), a Tory MP with a reputation for brilliance, who happens to also be bosom chums with the PM dating back to their days as unruly Oxbridge students. He swiftly becomes the subject of a political scandal that threatens his marriage with Sophie (Sienna Miller) and his career. Soon, the disaster grows as Whitehouse is accused of the rape of his political aide, Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott), and the series spirals into a courtroom drama, following Sophie as she begins to grapple with the idea that her husband may in fact be what he is accused of.
The series for the most part is well acted, and supported in particular by its leads, Sienna Miller and Rupert Friend, who do what they can to propel the narrative forward, but their efforts can only go so far, and the central characters are primarily developed through recurring and increasingly intrusive flashback sequences. With each abrupt transition director SJ Clarkson pulls out every trick in the book, from hand-held shaky camerawork to ill-fitting dutch angles that only exacerbate the tonal shift from what begins as a serious drama, before suddenly delving too far into the surreal. The end result is jarring and disorienting, the risk creating a balance that is not quite pulled off. With a cast such as this, it is frustrating that their stories are not developed with the attention that the characters deserve, and ultimately the actors go under-utilised.
There is real promise in the idea of Anatomy of a Scandal: it’s a human drama dipped in political intrigue, perfectly timed to reflect the current shape of British politics, with controversy aplenty, while also attempting to tackle ideas of consent and the unjust influence of white privilege. The ingredients are there, but it struggles underneath the weight of its subject matter, and at times feels like an undercooked, melodramatic knee-jerk response to the #MeToo era that, while seemingly sincere, brings little more to the conversation than what other shows have already done before it.
Anatomy of a Scandal is released on Netflix on 15th April 2022.
Watch the trailer for Anatomy of a Scandal here: