Friday, June 29, 2018

REVIEW: Amazon's 'A Very English Scandal'

Amazon's new miniseries A Very English Scandal debuted its three-episode season on Friday, June 29. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The miniseries stars Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Alex Jennings, David Bamber, Monica Dolan, Michele Dotrice, Blake Harrison, Paul Hilton, Eve Myles, Paul Freeman, Jonathan Hyde, Steffan Rhodri, Adrian Scarborough, Jason Watkins and Patricia Hodge.

101. "Episode 1"
Written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Stephen Frears

The mastery of tone on display throughout this opening episode is really quite extraordinary. A Very English Scandal is covering so many different tones and emotions. And yet, they all feel like a collective piece of this story that shows the many different facets of the core relationship. Everything feels light and jaunty because of the score playing underneath all of the events as well as some situations that are obviously being played for the comedy. But none of that gets in the way of the series being absolutely emotional and devastating either. There are some true moments of dramatic heft as well. It all feels so completely rewarding too. The show is presenting Jeremy Thorpe as this main protagonist who has a rising career in British politics. He is elected to the leader of his party and has many allies in parliament. But he's also a man with strong sexual urges to younger men. It's still sexy and seductive watching Jeremy and Norman together. Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw have some tremendous chemistry. And yet, the show is always aware that this is essentially Jeremy abusing his power in order to get an attractive man into bed with him. He is being nice and generous with the full expectation that Norman will then be his every night. Sure, it still leads to some fun adventures where the two of them can debate whether or not they were actually in love. But the key distinction is that Jeremy had a life outside of this romance and Norman didn't. Norman was once very hesitant to live as an openly gay man. For years after their breakup, he was living in the shadows and playing house with a woman. But he still gets his strength when it comes to demanding what's rightfully his from Jeremy. All he wants is his national insurance card that will allow him to continue working. His whole life depends on getting that back. And yet, Jeremy is more concerned with this relationship being outed to the public and ruining his politic career. Everything is essentially about power and polling for him. He is very open in exploring these connections with a number of young men. But he also wants to present the best image to ensure that he could even one day become Prime Minister of the country. He sees Norman as the one person who could destroy it all for him. It's one thing for him to send his friend to Ireland to settle all of this out with complete discretion. But it becomes such sinister and dark once Jeremy suggests murder as a final solution. That's a significant turning point that still lands very effectively because the acting, writing and directing are all completely stellar here. A-

102. "Episode 2"
Written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Stephen Frears

It's actually pretty brilliant how the series uses its comedic nature in order to lure the audience into a false sense of comfort and understanding right before multiple tragedies occur. It allows us to get into the same headspace as a number of the characters. It would be absolutely baffling to anyone if they heard a close friend say that they wanted to kill another human being. And yet, this episode proves that Jeremy actually means it. He wants Norman dead. The series continues to move very quickly through time to show how these relationships change over the years. It highlights how both Jeremy and Norman have moved on with their lives until they are both hit with the tragic deaths of their wives. There are so many parallel moments throughout this episode. But it's also important to note that the passion and connection from their relationship all those years ago still burns brightly. Norman is still talking about getting his national insurance card back while Jeremy is desperate to kill the one person who could ruin his political career. Yes, there are the very comedic moments where Norman is always seen walking around with a new dog, Peter is conspiring to kill someone even without Jeremy being present, and Norman and Jeremy just randomly pass each other on the street. And yet, it's that last one that proves to be the most destructive. It seems so completely innocent to Norman. He has lived his life with this scandal hanging over him. It's ruined him because he lost his card and desperately wants it back. But he can also eloquently talk about still being in love with Jeremy even though that ruins so many of his new personal relationships as well. And then, he passes Jeremy on the street and it's essentially nothing. He wasn't expecting to run into Jeremy there. And so, he thinks nothing of it. Similarly, Jeremy wasn't expecting to just run into Norman on the street because it has been years since they've seen each other. He had always conducted this business through a friend who could be discreet. And now, he realizes just how looming and devastating this scandal could be. It has already reared its ugly head on a number of occasions where his political colleagues have tried to take him down. That just makes it more devastating when a plan is put in action. It's still amusing that the man hired to do the job only fails because he needs to kill the dog first to ensure that he doesn't get attacked after killing its owner. But that also means that things are about to become so much more complicated and scandalous. Norman was always right to fear for his life. And now, he has the proof that Jeremy actually tried to kill him. Meanwhile, Jeremy just sits smugly in his office believing he has just gotten away with it. B+

103. "Episode 3"
Written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Stephen Frears

The series spent the first episode building up the connection and destruction of the relationship between Jeremy and Norman while the second episode showed their separate lives that still led to an attempt on Norman's life. And now, the series concludes with the actual trial of Jeremy Thorpe for conspiracy to commit murder. It becomes this huge scandal that completely destroys his political career. It's so sinister watching him wish to delay the trial so that he can still run in the election. He loses which is the first indication that his career won't be able to survive this scandal no matter what the outcome of the trial actually is. And it's so surprising to watch all of the details in court as well. In fact, it's quite amusing how the witnesses with the highest levels of education seem to really struggle presenting damning testimony against Jeremy while Norman is able to win over the entire courtroom with his clever responses to everything. He is the most crucial witness because he is the target of Jeremy's ire. Jeremy wanted him dead and spoke about it for years before actually ordering the hit. That's so damaging and Norman knows exactly how to expose him as a liar. And yet, all of this appears to be a damning condemnation of the era it takes place in as well. Yes, the national mood on homosexuality has changed a little bit since the series started. Over a decade has passed in the lives of the characters. But Norman is still assaulted when he goes to the police saying that the leader of the liberal party tried to kill him. No one wants to believe him because they just see him as a cockroach looking for his moment in the spotlight. However, he is able to give a compelling answer for why he is accepting money to tell his side of the story in the media. He does a much better job selling that fact than Peter does. In fact, Peter may purposefully be damaging his own testimony because he still considers Jeremy to be a friend. That's such a complicated relationship. Peter ensured that the letters were left behind in his office to be found one day. He does make the trip back to London in order to testify at the trial. But it's also easy for Jeremy's lawyer to discredit him and his lack of morals for so many years. He knew that the leader of the party wanted to kill a man and did nothing to report him. Instead, he just fled to a new life in California. Meanwhile, Norman is so passionate about this issue because his entire life has changed because of Jeremy Thorpe. He just wants his national insurance card back. He believes he did well in court. And yet, the case is still ultimately decided by the judge tainting the jury by labeling Norman as a parasite who needs to be rid from the world. That moment is so absolutely devastating and disgusting. It also proves that the case was never ultimately going to deliver a satisfying conclusion. The only thing that came out of it was the end of Jeremy's political career. And it takes awhile for that conclusion to dawn on him as well. Both Norman and Jeremy have friends and family they can return home to. But their lives will be defined by this scandal. That's tragic. But the show also highlights the differences between them because Norman is willing to live openly as a gay man despite the hatred of the world while Jeremy is still absolutely terrified of what that could do to his reputation in the world. And in the end, he still loses so much despite never having to stay in jail for more than a night. A