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  Scandal When The Finger Points
Year: 1989
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Stars: John Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Bridget Fonda, Ian McKellen, Leslie Phillips, Britt Ekland, Daniel Massey, Roland Gift, Jean Alexander, Alex Norton, Ronald Fraser, Paul Brooke, Jeroen Krabbé, Keith Allen, Ralph Brown, Ken Campbell, Ian Cuthbertson, Trevor Eve
Genre: HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1959, London osteopath Stephen Ward (John Hurt) liked to mingle with the rich and powerful, and his path to that would be to befriend attractive young women, groom them to be more alluring and glamorous so they could mix in those circles, and reap the benefits of social standing by association. They would be invited to all the poshest parties, behind closed doors, of course, and at that point his biggest find was Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley), a showgirl he discovered at a nightclub in the capital. She was still a teenager, but intrigued by Ward's world and quickly agreed to fall under his tutelage, both unaware of the seismic effect they would have on Britain thereafter...

The Profumo affair was one of the major political incidents of the twentieth century in the United Kingdom, but by 1989 there had been efforts, if not to cover it up - that horse had bolted - then to sweep it under the carpet and consign it to history, despite how important it had been and how its resonances continued to the next century. Basically, Minster for War John Profumo had been having an affair with Christine after meeting at one of Ward's parties, which would have been bad enough in those buttoned down times just post-fifties, but she was also sleeping with a Russian military man, and the question arose, were there state secrets being passed on? Which was far more serious.

Unfortunately, if you are going to portray this, well, scandal in a couple of hours, there was the problem that no two sources matched up completely, as everyone involved had had their say to an extent, but they appeared to be of differing opinions as to what happened. It was one of those news stories where the more you examined it, the more complex it became, and it was clear even at the time, when there had been a trial, the convenient death of one of the participants had provided a scapegoat and pulled down the shutters on much further investigation. This film was part of the movement to rehabilitate some of the participants and reassess what we knew about that time.

Whether it changed very much was questionable, as while they managed to drum up a lot of publicity for the film, the British studio Palace were more keen to big up their anti-establishment credentials than trigger an extensive reopening of any investigation. That was noticeable in a film that was less a howl of outrage and more a tut-tutting with occasional mild scenes of debauchery, which featured nudity yet came across as rather quaint - Whalley even refused to do her nude scenes, and an obvious body double was employed, which went against how daring this project was positioning itself as. Indeed, the whole experience was lacking the requisite focus on the historical ramifications, yet in addition failed to conjure up any feeling of decadence that would not have been out of place on a Channel 4 TV drama. Which may be because it was originally a television effort that was retooled into a cinematic release at the script stage, apparently by cutting vast swathes of the political business out Michael Thomas's screenplay.

This had the effect of leaving it as a sad, headshaking lament for Ward in particular, and Keeler almost incidentally. It was not a dry watch, exactly, but it fumbled its delivery of why this whole affair was so damaging to the British way of life: this was where tabloids at last got their taste for making a fortune out of the misery of others, and generated a public appetite for such things that seemed bottomless. Also, it instigated the rise of scathing scepticism about authority figures and whether they were doing anything but serving themselves. Both of those would be fertile ground for a feature film, but were dodged to concentrate on the personal side, with Profumo (Ian McKellen looking like a Klingon in a three-piece suit) almost an afterthought. What saved it was Hurt, and to a lesser extent a cheeky Bridget Fonda as Mandy-Rice Davies: Hurt started out as a louche lounge lizard, but ended a figure of pity, and it was thanks to him this remained compelling, his big moment in the courtroom the only part that truly hit the target here as far as the emotion and injustice went; it was one of his favourite of his own performances. Music by Carl Davis, with end credits theme song by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield.

[The BFI release this on Blu-ray with the following features:

Feature commentary by producer Stephen Woolley and writer Michael Thomas
Feature commentary by director Michael Caton-Jones
The Minister, the Model & the Russian Spy: Making Scandal (2010, 25 mins): members of the Scandal cast and crew discuss the film
Michael Caton-Jones Remembers Scandal (2019, 27 mins), Blu-ray only): new interview in which the director recalls making the film
Stephen Woolley Remembers Scandal (2019, 40 mins, Blu-ray only): the producer on how he got the film made and the talent he worked with
Nothing Has Been Proved: Official Music Video performed by Dusty Springfield (1989, 5 Mins)
Cabaret Girl (1956, 26 mins): documentary on Murray's Cabaret Club, shot shortly before its owner hired Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies as dancers
The Riveter (1986, 35 mins): short by Michael Caton-Jones, made while he was a student at the National Film and Television School
Trailer
Stills gallery
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Fully illustrated booklet with new writing by Jane Giles, Augustin Macellari and Vic Pratt and full film credits.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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