It is a hard time to be a fan of Netflix's The Crown right now. You’re officially half a year away from the premiere of season 2 and you’re, at best, still half a year away from the much-buzzed about season 3. That’s a lot of waiting around for more soapy, luxurious Buckingham Palace intrigue courtesy of Netflix.
Well, today is your lucky day. Amazon Prime is here with just the show that will quench your thirst for all things deeply British and deeply political with another based-on-true-events period piece A Very English Scandal. The zippy Hugh Grant-starrer, which was originally a BBC production before joining the streaming platform, is officially your fix for when you simply miss Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy, and, soon to be Olivia Colman) too much.
The series begins in London in 1965, exactly one year after the final events of The Crown season 2. Where the Netflix drama follows the high drama of the royals, English Scandal is all about real-life politician Jeremy Thorpe (Grant), the leader of England’s Liberal party at the time. Thorpe is hiding a secret: he is a closeted queer man. This fact leads Thorpe’s life to spiral as his jilted lover, Norman Scott (a positively delightful, mop-haired Ben Whishaw), continuously threatens to out the Parliament member. But Scott isn’t driven by malice. Instead, he is clearly hurt over the collapsed relationship and terrified for his own financial well-being (there's a whole thing with an insurance card). Thorpe might be wealthy politician, but poor Scott is merely a lanky, sweet stable boy who was turned into a kept man.
But what happens when you’re no longer kept?
The answer is fairly bungled blackmailing, panicked phone calls, multiple unhappy marriages, people yelling the word “bunny,” a wide-ranging murder plot, and the failing of an actual murder. There is also, like The End Of The F***ing World before it, the murder of a dog. That caninicide is of course the most damning crime of the entire Scandal — forget the human murder that almost was! — and it is treated as much. While watching all of this bonkers action unspool, it is nearly impossible to believe all of this happened. However, it veddy, veddy much did, as Grant’s Thorpe would say.
Speaking of Grant’s performance, it is truly a sight to see. Audiences might be used to watching the very British actor play rom-com heartthrobs, yet, here in English Scandal he is every bit the scoundrel as a ruthless politician. Thorpe is the one to order that aforementioned blunderous murder as he becomes increasingly paranoid over the possibility of Norman outing him. And before there was any talk of murdering former lovers with cinder blocks or pistols, Thorpe said oily, icy things like, “Now. I’m going to kiss you. And you will enjoy it,” to a man who was sobbing only seconds earlier. Jeremy Thorpe can be terrifying.
Grant luxuriates in the blind privilege of Thorpe, with his ridiculously high-falutin' pronunciations and demands, while also being in on the joke. You know that Hugh Grant knows that his character is both extremely silly and extremely dangerous.
The only person having more fun than Grant is his on-screen adversary Ben Wishaw. Everything about Wishaw's Scott is sublime, from the way he translates the tragedy of the ill-fated young queer man, to the way he plays into the inadvertent, overwhelming humor of his character. Scott is one of those people that doesn’t mean to be funny, but very much always is. There is a running bit of Scott introducing dogs that will never not make someone smile, and I can’t wait for the entire world to catch on.
The series is just three episodes long, and each installment runs less than an hour. All together, it’s a mere 167 minutes, credits included. After the success of Killing Eve and Glow’s 2018 return, English Scandal is the latest nugget of proof that longer episodes and longer seasons do not equate to better television.
In fact, A Very English Scandal is so good at creating jaunty, enjoyable TV, you’ll probably wish there was just one more episode out there.
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