UK Markets close in 1 hr 19 mins
  • FTSE 100

    -49.03 (-0.64%)
  • FTSE 250

    -248.70 (-1.09%)
  • AIM

    -11.51 (-0.99%)

    +0.0001 (+0.01%)

    -0.0067 (-0.49%)

    -868.91 (-2.76%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    -16.23 (-1.61%)
  • S&P 500

    -52.69 (-1.13%)
  • DOW

    -472.39 (-1.32%)

    +1.09 (+1.30%)

    +0.70 (+0.04%)
  • NIKKEI 225

    -76.27 (-0.27%)

    -105.25 (-0.43%)
  • DAX

    -171.27 (-1.07%)
  • CAC 40

    -66.83 (-0.93%)

The writer of 'A Very British Scandal' had Meghan Markle in mind when creating the drama

·5-min read
Photo credit: BBC One
Photo credit: BBC One

BBC One's A Very British Scandal depicts the irrevocable downfall of the Duchess of Argyll; a woman who fell foul of the press and was the subject of a national scandal in the 1960s.

The new three-part drama offers a feminist reframing of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll's explosive divorce, which became one of the most notorious, prurient and brutal legal cases of the 20th century. The Crown's Claire Foy plays Margaret, the duchess, opposite Paul Bettany as Ian Campbell, the duke.

Celebrated for her charisma, beauty, and style, the duchess was later ridiculed and dismantled as a woman by the press, her peers and the judiciary when her divorce exposed explicit Polaroid pictures that decimated her reputation. Screenwriter Sarah Phelps felt strongly that the duchess - who inherited her title after marrying Campbell in 1951 - was punished for being a woman, and wanted to reexamine her life from a female lens.

Photo credit: CHRIS JACKSON - Getty Images
Photo credit: CHRIS JACKSON - Getty Images

Phelps revealed that she had Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, firmly in mind when she was writing the drama, because of the misogynistic treatment and constant defaming by the press that the Duchess of Argyll was subjected to.

"I think a lot about Meghan Markle, and how the press hate her - how much they absolutely go for her every time and compare her with Kate Middleton," Phelps told press including Harper's Bazaar UK. "And there's a prevailing idea that if you're in the public game, you’re fair game - you're meat. If you put yourself out there then you're fair game and if you get bruised, so what? That's your job. Your job is to be ripped apart by us and that's who I was thinking a lot about when I was writing this."

Foy suggested that back in the early '60s, the media behaved slightly better towards high-profile figures than they do now, and had affixed boundaries that cease to exist in the 21st century.

"I think media behaved in a very different way then," the actress said. "I'm just going to leave that there... In the sense that there was still very much a respectful boundary, there was still, 'you can't report that because of that'."

She continued: "I don't really consider myself a person in the tabloids. I live my life. So it's very different. I think in that period of time, Margaret courted the press because they were safe, she was safe in their hands. She gave them what they wanted, they gave her what she wanted. The tide turned quickly from her being, 'Look at her in beautiful lace,' to suddenly, 'Oh my god she is a fallen women, she's a disgrace and we all hate her'. Which is the thing I am very aware of. You are constantly in life - in that arena - good or bad, there is no grey is there? You're lorded or you're hated."

Photo credit: BBC One
Photo credit: BBC One

Meanwhile, A Very British Scandal also explores possibly one of the earliest examples of slut-shaming and revenge porn, as Margaret's private Polaroids - featuring herself being intimate with a then-unknown man - were stolen by husband Campbell when he suspected her of cheating. These photos were used without her consent in court during their highly-publicised divorce battle.

Revenge porn, and the hacking and leaking of private images or videos online (or in any public domain, as was the case for Margaret) continues to dominate TV dramas, including Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble's I Hate Suzie, and Lily James' Pam and Tommy - because sadly, "these things are happening all the time", says Phelps.

"I Hate Suzie was absolutely amazing, and I've just seen the incredible trailer where Lily James is playing Pamela Anderson, because of the sex tape...." said the screenwriter. "These things are happening all the time. All the time. We remember the One night in Paris sex tape and all the time women are held to a different standard, and this [series] is just the beginning of it."

Photo credit: BBC One
Photo credit: BBC One

The drama closes in on these gender double standards, and how shame, judgement and controversy continue to surround a woman's sexuality. Margaret held her head high despite being bulldozed by everyone around her (not least her own mother) and still fought back against the patriarchy - despite being conditioned to adhere to the male gaze.

"I don't think Margaret liked women, " Phelps ruminated. "Everything was about her being beautiful, being in the male gaze, everything. 'Make men happy, please them, make them love you, make them be attracted to you, work out who you're going to marry.' And then suddenly the male gaze isn't admiring anymore - it's completely a different thing.

"I really admire her guts and I admire her guts in not going quietly. In refusing to do what her gender, and what her class would have really required her to do - which is, don't say a word, don't drag us through the gutter, don't fool us, don't shame us, don't expose us and our practices and the way we live our lives behind closed doors and she just went, 'Not a chance' and did all of that."

Ultimately, the series isn't concerned with making Margaret a 'likeable' figure but rather a sympathetic one; it aims to make a modern audience acknowledge how she was mistreated, judged, and dehumanised based on her gender - and that we still have a long way to go until women are immune from this discriminatory treatment.

"So many women are in the position that Margaret is in, but they don't have the means, the funds, the time to be able to fight like she could fight," Foy concluded. "She was given that opportunity and she did it and she still lost; she was still belittled and shamed and put down and I think that's why she's sympathetic, I hope, to a modern audience... Because now we can look back and go, 'That was pretty bad, wasn't it, how we treated that woman?'"

Photo credit: BBC One
Photo credit: BBC One

A Very British Scandal airs on Boxing Day on BBC One at 9pm.

You Might Also Like

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting