Sex, Scandal & Shaming: The Trial Of Christine Keeler Finale Shows Not Much Has Changed Since The 60s
SPOILER ALERT! This article contains spoilers for The Trial Of Christine Keeler, including episode six – the finale.
Bristling with sex, power, money, hedonism and scandal, it’s zero surprise that the Profumo affair made headlines back in 1961 and remains just as juicy a story 50 years later. We’ve already seen a specific side of the scandal in The Crown: the final episode of its second season covered Prince Philip’s acquaintanceship with hot creepster/pimp/hedonistic osteopath (you decide) Stephen Ward.
The Trial of Christine Keeler goes broader.
To summarise, the six-part BBC series centres around the teenage Keeler, played admirably by Sophie Cookson. Through a number of flashbacks – so subtly demarcated that it’s a good idea to keep your phone out of reach and pay attention – we see her relationship with the infamous Ward, played by James Norton. Either at Ward's house on Wimpole Mews in London, or at Cliveden's Spring Cottage, Keeler rubbed shoulders (and sometimes private parts) with England’s high society, all while under his watch.
This odd little 'arrangement' between Ward and Keeler takes a dramatic turn in 1961, when Keeler begins an affair with Secretary of State for War John Profumo and at the same time has encounters with a possible Russian spy. With that potential pillow talk being passed from one to the other, the whole sordid sex triangle became a security breach that made the press sit up and pay attention, and eventually forced Profumo to resign.
The million-dollar question is whether Ward was grooming and profiting from Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies (Ellie Bamber), or whether facilitating various romps was simply how he got his kicks. The last episode brings it all to a conclusion: after overdosing, Ward is found guilty and dies before his sentence is decided. Next in line for prosecution is Keeler herself, accused of lying in court over a sometimes-violent ex who harassed her.
As the series title suggests, Christine Keeler has been on trial all along: we're judging whether she's perpetrator or victim.
As the series title suggests, Christine Keeler has been on trial all along: we’re judging whether she’s perpetrator or victim. Cookson’s nuanced depiction certainly shows a strong-willed side to Keeler, who tells fibs to get her ex locked up.
It is she who becomes the very public face of the failings of the men in her life, whether that’s jealous ex-lovers, horny men who abuse their positions of power and money, slimy Stephen Ward with his questionable motives, or the police and press who manipulate Keeler. Even her own father sells her out while claiming it’s not his fault.
Being a teenage girl is like being invited to a glorious picnic, only to discover you're one of the sandwiches.
In a moment of female solidarity, Mrs Profumo (played by the outstanding Emilia Fox) gets it. "Are we endlessly to blame women for the weaknesses and wickedness of men?" she sympathises. "Being a teenage girl is like being invited to a glorious picnic, only to discover you're one of the sandwiches." Sing it, sister.
The reality is that at a time when women had only just started to gain financial independence, ambitious women knew that their power to access it was mostly limited. Mostly. That Christine and Mandy used the assets available to them speaks more about the ingrained imbalance of power and their desire to lead a more comfortable life than their moral compass.
Yet as much as that power imbalance has shifted, you get the impression that little would change if the situation were to happen today. Given the Boris Johnson /Jennifer Arcuri scandal, which only landed Johnson in a little tepid water and didn't stop him winning an election, who knows if Profumo would have gotten away with it altogether today.
As for the treatment of Keeler? There are uncanny similarities between the tabloids’ obsession with her and Meghan Markle, both of whom initially chased fame but find the media will stop at nothing for a story. And they both have absent dads who sold them out.
As with the real-life event, the series doesn’t conclusively reveal the motives of all those involved, how far Ward’s clientele stretched or the full nature of their soirées. Exactly what went on behind the doors of Wimpole Mews and Spring Cottage will only be known by those present. What’s clear is that when it comes to the men in Christine Keeler’s life, they can – to use her own Swinging Sixties vernacular – "do one".