‘Anatomy Of A Scandal’: New Dramatic Series On Netflix With Sienna Miller
Netflix has released a new limited series, Anatomy of a Scandal, starring Rupert Friend, Sienna Miller and Michelle Dockery, this April 15. Created by David E. Kelley and Melissa James Gibson, and based on Sarah Vaughan’s novel, this six-episode long courtroom drama about a British Member of Parliament being accused of rape.
Anatomy of a Scandal follows James (Rupert Friend) and Sophie Whitehouse (Sienna Miller). James is a Member of Parliament, and government minister, with a very close tie to the Prime Minister. James and Sophie live a seemingly loving and comfortable life with their two children and live-in nanny. This happy family life they lead is soon disrupted when a scandalous affair is revealed and James is accused of rape. Barrister Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) has been given the case to prosecute. Although reluctant at first, Kate is determined to win the case against James Whitehouse.
This new limited series feels very much in the same vein as A Very English Scandal and A Very British Scandal in its focus on the British elite and privileged few. However, Anatomy of a Scandal over-dramatises an already dramatic case, using effects that sensationalises it, while focusing solely on the accused and his wife, rather than on the victims themselves.
The series begins by establishing James and Sophie Whitehouse as a strong couple in the political sphere. They have been together since university at Oxford, where James was a member of an elite group, the Libertine club. James is a fairly young and attractive Member of Parliament, who easily charms his constituents. His promising career is put to a halt the minute news breakout of his five-month long affair with one of his aides, Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott). While James tries to persuade his wife the affair was of no importance to him, the police soon inform James that Olivia his accused him of rape.
What follows is the court case, in which the affair and the crime is graphically described by Olivia as she is questioned by Kate for the prosecution and by Defense Barrister Angela Regan (Josette Simon). The series, though, seems more concerned in showing how this affects Sophie, as she sits through the trial listening to the details of her husband’s liaison with Olivia. She appears more distressed, as she is shown staggering out of the courtroom, by the description of their five-months affair and hearing that Olivia was in love with James than she is of the graphic details of the rape.
The series weaves between the present and the past, revealing more and more details about each of the three main characters and their intertwined pasts. Rupert Friend’s James, although handsome and charismatic, is also arrogant, privileged and self-entitled. Sienna Miller’s Sophie is shown torn between maintaining a public image and her fractured marriage, as she tries to support her husband although plagued by doubts. Michelle Dockery’s Kate, once her secret is revealed (however far-fetched you may find it to be), turns out to be the most interesting character in this story, and deserved to be the main focus from the beginning. Dockery gives Kate a sense of determined strength in what will turn out to be a very trying case for her character.
For all the series’ flaws—the over-sensationalisation, the slow motion effects, the focus on Sophie rather than the victims themselves (although the big twist round the middle of the series attempts to rectify this point), an almost cringeworthy use of music especially in the very first episode with “How the Mighty Fall”—the series quite effectively emphasises the importance and the meaning of consent in cases such as these. Kate tells the jury that in order to form a verdict they must consider whether Olivia Lytton consented and whether James Whitehouse reasonably believed that Olivia Lytton was consenting. It is this very last point, about reasonable belief in consent in rape cases, that this story ultimately challenges.
The series shows how it is the victim herself who is put on trial, as Olivia is questioned about her behavior in order to determine whether she appeared to give her consent. As the episodes unfold, the story suggests that James was too blinded by his own sense of self-entitlement, privilege and arrogance to reasonably form an objective understanding of whether his victims were consenting to the sexual act or not. It is a rather curious conclusion to make, and renders the series ambivalent on its notion of consent. What Anatomy of a Scandal does show is how difficult it is to prove lack of consent when the defendant and the victim know each other and had been in a relationship.
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