When good TV does a disservice to rape victims
REVIEWED BY Ashwini Vethakan
When we first heard about Anatomy of a Scandal and read the synopsis of the plot, we questioned actress Sienna Miller’s sanity. Why would she want to take on the role of a woman who is being publicly humiliated by her philandering husband after suffering the same fate in real life?
Yes, Sienna has lived a traumatic life – check out Miller and her ex-husband Jude Law’s scandal – it’s one of those unfortunate Hollywood stories.
With that being said, Anatomy of a Scandal is one of the first series this year to grab our attention. There is a lot to love about it as much as there isn’t.
This series captures life in the powerful upper echelons of the British Parliament where male politicians dominate. A veneer of sophistication and polish may well be present at various levels but hidden under all that public display of male bravado is the true ugliness of a patriarchal society.
Anatomy of a Scandal discusses a story we have heard all too often – of men with wealth, pedigree and considerable influence getting away too easily with abuse of power. James Whitehouse MP (Rupert Friend), with his close ties to the prime minister, is one such man.
On the outside, he is perfect and charming: a people’s politician, loyal husband and dedicated father. But the thing about an impossibly clean image is just that – it’s impossible. In Whitehouse’s case, an affair with a young parliamentary researcher in his office becomes tabloid gold even as he scrambles to break the news to his wife Sophie (portrayed by Miller).
The script’s written in such a way that Sophie forgives her husband and is willing to stand by him – but the dialogue could have been stronger. We can’t fathom why she wasn’t throwing a few heavy objects at him and screaming tearfully; because after all, he did hide the illicit relationship for five months!
Kudos to Miller though for bringing life and depth to her character, and making Sophie as relatable as possible.
Before Sophie is allowed to process her husband’s scandalous affair however, she’s slapped in the face with something even more disturbing – James’ mistress Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott) alleges that the parliamentarian had raped her.
Stuck in the eye of this storm, we watch as Sophie tries hard to maintain her composure and stand by her man – all while trying to figure out if he is really a brute who forced himself on a young girl.
Things take a turn for the worse when another woman’s name is thrown in the mix – someone who claims that Whitehouse assaulted her back in his university days.
In comes the mysterious Kate Woodcroft, QC (Michelle Dockery). She is a powerful state prosecutor who takes on this high profile case even though she really shouldn’t have. Now, we don’t want to give away the whole series in case you haven’t watched it yet; but let’s simply say it has an unexpected twist.
Remember how we said that there’s much to love about this limited series as there is not to? Well, excluding the brilliant performances by Miller, Friend and others, the theme of rape is portrayed rather callously.
Yes, in the end the elite do get away with pretty much anything – and that includes murder; but what we don’t appreciate is having women, particularly actual assault victims, being made to feel that what happened to them can easily be swept under the rug and that they shouldn’t report it.
That being said, Anatomy of a Scandal has many good points to it thanks to its amazing cast. It’s a series certainly worth a weekend binge!