Dir: Michael Caton-Jones, 1989


After the sad passing of John Hurt, it’s only right to look at some of his best-known roles and celebrate the acting majesty of a brilliant and much-lauded face of British cinema.

Based on the notorious scandal that rocked the Conservative government in 1963, Scandal recreates the lead up to and eventual downfall of John Profumo and Stephen Ward, culminating in the latter’s suicide with a prison sentence hanging over him.

Secretary of State for War, John Profumo (Ian McKellen), is introduced to nineteen-year-old topless showgirl, Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley, here billed as Whalley-Kilmer), by osteopath and socialite, Stephen Ward (John Hurt).

Unbeknownst to both of them, Keeler begins seeing Russian naval diplomat, Yevgeny Ivanov, causing fear over national security.

When the news of this damaging act becomes public knowledge, Profumo is forced to resign his position and Ward is charged with making an immoral earning from Keeler’s job as an escort.

Scandal is a rather difficult film to get into. To fully appreciate it, you have to have a fairly good background of the affair, already, as it doesn’t go into explicit detail about the people involved, merely glossing over them.

The 1960’s are represented convincingly, with great attention to detail that emit a genuine authenticity of the decade.

Bridget Fonda dons an impeccable English accent as Keeler’s friend Mandy Rice-Davies. The two ladies have an on-screen believable chemistry.

Although both beautiful women, it’s Whalley who stands out. Looking every inch the real girl at the centre of it all, the erstwhile Mrs. Val Kilmer radiates sexiness and turns in a terrific performance.

As the man who started it all, Hurt plays Ward with a very relaxed attitude and easy going persona and sex at the centre of his entire attention. You have to wonder whether the real-life osteopath actually did any work outside of his never ending orgies and sex parties.

It does have to be said, however, that as John Profumo, Ian McKellen sports a weak and lifeless portrayal of the infamous philanderer.

Despite being about the Profumo affair, Scandal concerns itself, mainly, with the, allegedly platonic only, relationship between the socialite and ex-showgirl

Explicit for 1989, the film is raunchy today with boobs and bums filling the screen whenever Caton-Jones is presented with the opportunity.

One scene, however, was a little too much for James Ferman, director of the British censors.

In an act of censorship that has now reached legendary status, Ferman was adamant that real penetration could be seen during an orgy. Producer Stephen Woolley, assured head censor that it was, in fact, merely a misplaced candlestick and what they were seeing was just a trick of the light.

Refusing to budge on his stance, Ferman insisted that the obscene image had to go. Instead of cutting the scene, the distributors, Palace Pictures, blurred the shot to make it appear out of focus.

After this small alteration had been made, the film was given an ’18’ certificate. All releases, regardless of the country, have had the blurring present giving rise to the thought that the master copy was physically altered so no, true, uncensored print exists.

For the American release, the MPAA treated Scandal with a lot more brutality, demanding numerous cuts to award the film an ‘R’ rating. An uncut and unrated version was released on video with the aforementioned shot that upset the British censors so much still blurred.

It’s an interesting film that grips at times but drags at others. For a dramatisation of a true story, very little of the reality is focussed on.

Profumo has a relatively short screen time and not enough effort is spent on the political side.

Being called Scandal you would have thought that more time would have been put on the scandal itself and the fall out from it.

A good, if somewhat flawed, movie.


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