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I saw this for the first time last night on Channel 4. I've never
sought out the film before because I assumed that it would be an
uninvolved telling of an uninteresting piece of British history. I was
The piece works on several levels, as they say. First, the period evocation is excellent. I became interested in this era after reading an interesting book on slum landlord Peter Rachmann a few years back (he is a minor character here). Christine Keeler was a figure who inhabited both the pot and ska parties of London's impoverished immigrant community and the bedrooms of the most powerful men in the land, and this breadth and contrast gives the film sufficient scope to successfully capture the energy and feel of the time.
Second, the handling of character development is exemplary. The film surprises you by gradually shading in the relationship between Keeler and Stephen Ward, until their completely believable 'love affair' becomes the focus in the moving finale. Joanne Whalley and John Hurt are both exceptional as Keeler and Ward, turning in subtle and detailed performances. These characters are contradictory and ambiguous, the kind of complex human beings who could quite easily be reduced to type by lesser actors.
Third, the film is made with real heart and intelligence. It is sympathetic to its characters and it strives to understand them, and thus help us to understand them. The director, Michael Caton-Jones frames and cuts with brilliant understatement, making potent and witty use of contemporary music throughout. I really didn't expect the seamless technique and low-key accretion of detail employed here, and it kept me fascinated.
The tone of the picture is just right. A kind of compassionate sadness. We come to feel the real injustice of the moral and social hypocrisy bought to bear without being assaulted by it, and as noted before, the ending is powerful and affecting. It would appear that tabloid scumbags were as pernicious an influence then as they are now, and the observations thereon are as relevant as ever.
If I had to find fault with the film, it would be this: Ian McKellen models perhaps the least convincing bald pate in the history of cinema as John Profumo. So much so, that, for me, it impacts negatively on his otherwise notable performance. Its a minor flaw all told.
I was surprised. I was impressed. I was moved. If you happen upon the film, sit down and watch it. You will be rewarded.
Viewed from the 21st century, the Profumo affair seems much ado about nothing, a sex scandal of an altogether more innocent age. Put to one side the marginal security issues, and all that is left is a bit of bad behaviour among the aristocracy, and to be frank, if you choose not to shoot these people, you can't really expect for anything more. It did leave one serious casualty, however: Stephen Ward, procurer of girls to the upper classes, who committed suicide after being abandoned by his friends when the going got tough. 'Scandal' tells his story, and manages to be reasonably sympathetic to Ward, Christine Keeler (the girl who slept with Profumo) and even (to some extent) the minister, although the facts don't quite seem to support the continuing strength of the bond between Ward and Keeler as depicted. The portrait of the early 1960s is well judged (without the film ever feeling overly historical), and there are interesting insights into the semi-professional sexual relationships between the smart set and the girls on the make they adopted. But the best thing about 'Scandal' is really the acting. A distinguished array of British character actors perform their turns impeccably; and Joanne Whalley, while never quite looking eighteen, is a dead ringer for Keeler and always nice to look at. But in his own way, John Hurt (who plays Ward) is also great to look at, in his case because of his straightforward excellence as an actor. In his hands, Ward is an essentially mediocre man; and yet charming, far from wicked and ultimately tragic. In some senses, the whole affair provided a template for the subsequent portrayal of the private lives of politicians by the press, to the extent that today it would hardly make the waves that it did at the time. But this film goes far beyond historical reconstruction, and is well worth watching in spite of the relative triviality of the events is portrays.
This is one of the better contemporary fictionalizations of historical
events, though it suffers from lack of exposition. Here's the history that
you need to follow events: John Profumo, England's Minister of Defence
(equivalent to the US Defense Secretary) was introduced to party girls (like
Christine Keeler) by popular osteopath Stephen Ward. But unlike some
upper-crust friends of Ward, Profumo had more to lose. When it got out that
Keeler had dated a Soviet Navy attache at about the same time as she dated
the married Profumo, British tabloids had a field day noting that there were
national security concerns atop the infidelity problem. One reason folks in
the US have difficulty with this issue is that the story was overshadowed in
the States by the almost simultaneous Cuban Missle Crisis.
The great soundtrack's now been out on CD for a few years; the theme was produced by the Pet Shop Boys and sung by authentic 60's icon Dusty Springfield. All other songs chosen charted during the early 60's, giving the film the ring of authenticity. And due possibly to legal problems, the original performance of Chubby Checker's THE TWIST couldn't be used, so Checker re-recorded it for this film. This newer, punchy 1989 version is the one used today behind Pantene shampoo commercials.
If "Scandal" (1989) was not a fairly accurate recounting of Britain's
John Profumo Affair, the characters and events would be too weird to be
considered plausible fiction. Defense Minister Profumo's attempt to
refute allegations of his involvement with Christine Keeler ultimately
brought down the 10 year Conservative Party government back in the
mid-1960's. "Scandal recreates these events and gives the viewer a
glimpse into the personalities and possible motives of the main players
in this political soap opera.
But recreating history is a secondary consideration in this film whose theme is about individuals who live in a fairy tale world until they fall victim to the grim forces that take life more seriously. The main player is Stephen Ward (John Hurt), a osteopath and recreational artist whose main goal is to be part of the right crowd, not so much immersed in this kind of society as in a position to observe it closely for his amusement. His method for doing so involves discovering ravishing young women from the poor side of town and doing a Henry Higgins number on them. The film begins with his discovery of Keeler (Joanne Whalley) who he begins grooming and introducing to prominent members of his in-crowd.
The two soon fall in love, but theirs is not a physical relationship. Stephen delights in seeing his protégé work her magic on men in authority. This eventually leads to their doom, since no one quite understands such an unconventional relationship they have no credibility when an attempt is made to make Stephen a scapegoat for the government scandal.
In retrospect the process of attacking Ward to contain the widening scandal was one of the two most shameful abuses of the judicial system in post war Britain. Coincidentally Hurt played the victim in the other one as well; "10 Rillington Place" (1971), in which Hurt is wrongly executed for a murder committed by his landlord, the now notorious serial killer John Christie.
"Scandal" is a powerful and arresting film with solid performances. Whalley has the biggest role and is a bit too intelligent looking to be completely believable as a character like Keeler. But she is so nice to look at that almost anyone would willingly trade credibility for scenery-and she is otherwise entirely convincing in an excellent performance. I first noticed her in "Willow", the film she made just before "Scandal". She had a secondary part but her scenes were the most memorable in the entire film. Hurt somehow sells you on the fact that his character derives an innocent joy from simply seeing a beautiful young woman walking down the street on a nice day.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
I wont go into detail regarding the plot however the film is based on actual events in the early 1960's regarding the illicit affair of war minister Jack Profumo and teenage party-girl Christine Keeler..I watched the film last night on British TV and was fortunate to see the longer 114 minute version..with more substance added to the scenes between Christine and Mandy-Rice Davies and longer speeches from other characters including the police man interrogating Christine...this fleshed out version was much better than the video version i saw years ago..the feel and look of the film is stunning..soundtrack excellent..and the performances very moving and under-rated..it amazes me that Joanne Whalley hasn't done more work since this film..she is wonderfully seductive and naive as Christine,and Bridget Fonda is cunning and striking as Mandy-Rice Davies..and off course John Hurt turns in yet another incredible performance!..One Question...WHY HAS'NT THIS BRILLIANT AND CLASSIC FILM BEEN RELEASED ON DVD IN THE U.K..and yet it has in America!??
I've read the book that the movie is based on (a collection of reports on
the 1963 affair that shook the UK politics). I must say that the movie is
very accurate in its portrayal of the times and facts of the case.
That of course would not have made it the film to watch. So it has a lot of nudity to spice things up (man, the sixties were a decadent time!), good acting, and brilliant soundtrack of theme songs just recreates the times for you. John Hurt as the ambitious 'doctor' is excellent, as is Bridget Fonda. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, who played the protagonist, Christine Keeler, is quite forgettable though.
I highly recommend this movie, but beware it's a STRONG "R" film.
I remember the names of the people involved when I was a kid. I had no
idea what the Profumo Affair was all about, so I was very interested in
seeing the film. Names from my childhood kept cropping up: Christine
Keeler, Stephen Ward, Lucky Gordon. I was able to see the whole thing
played out before me. Most of what is shown is historically accurate.
It is certainly true that the osteopath Stephen Ward was hounded to his
death by the British establishment.
Of the performances John Hurt was excellent as Ward. Joanne Whalley Kilmer has been criticised for a two dimensional performance. I don't agree. She had decided to play the part of someone who is essentially shallow (however deep the real Christine Keeler might or might not be) and makes a fair fist of it. I thought that Roland Gift was OK as Johnny edgecombe - although at the time I thought he was supposed to be Lucky Gordon.I thought that Leslie Philips was going to be a disaster as Lord Astor, but he was excellent.
The problem of having lived through the period is that when it is portrayed on film, you can see all the mistakes in fashions and background. This film is no exception.
The music is quite apt - in one case (see below) spot on - and I thought that the truly appalling rendition of "She Wears Red Feathers" in the night club scene was very atmospheric.
Someone else pointed out the scene as the girls are dressing while The Shadows play "Apache." That scene stimulated me, too. If you can, watch this scene in a cinema. Watching stockings been drawn on on a big screen while Tony's bass drum, Cliff's Japanese drum, then Jet's bass come rolling out of those gigantic cinema speakers is an experience not to be missed - believe you me!
I didn't expect much out of this when I was saw it about 15 years ago,
but it turned to be quite interesting. The only problem was it has too
much a sleazy feel to it and an obvious political agenda, which is not
unusual in films. The agenda is almost always one way.
There is a lot of nudity in here, lots of it mainly with Bridget Fonda who plays "Mandy Rice-Davies" and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as "Christine Keeler." Whalley-Kilmer looked particularly beautiful.
John Hurt as "Stephen Ward" and Ian McKellen "John Profumo" are the males. The story is about Britain's "Profumo Affar," as it was labeled back then - a sex scandal involving English politicians in the early 1960s.
In what could be a dry account turns out to be a fascinating movie, well-acted and beautifully-photographed. I've seen it three times and the third was probably the last. By then, the titillation of the nudity had worn off and the bias of yet another Liberal agenda bashing conservatives (it's same all over in the world of film-making) got a bit annoying. That, and the fact that had no English subtitles on the DVD, was disappointing.
More then thirty years before Monica Lewinsky nearly destroyed Bill
Clinton's presidency, Christine Keeler brought down the sitting British
government. Her affair with then Minister Of War John Profumo, the
scandal that followed and the effect it had on those involved is the
subject of Michael Caton-Jones' 1989 film Scandal. Caton-Jones, with
the help of a first rate cast and script, brings to life the scandal
that brought down the British government.
The film's cast is fantastic to say the least. Leading it is John Hurt as Osteopath/Playboy Stephen Ward and Joanne Whalley as the infamous Christine Keeler. Both are well cast, Whalley being a very good physical match for Keeler especially, and both give what seem to be honest performances as people who find themselves going from the time of the their lives to the worst moments of it. Right behind them are Bridget Fonda and Ian McKellen as the other two major players in the scandal: Mandy Rice-Davies and John Profumo respectively. The supporting cast includes Jeroen Krabbe as Soviet naval attaché Eugene Ivanov, Jean Alexander as Keeler's mother, Leslie Phillips as Bill aka Lord Astor and James Villiers as an MP. The cast is fantastic and helps to sell the realistic recreation of the scandal.
The realism is also helped by the production values as well. The production design of Simon Holland and the costumes of Jane Robinson bring to life the late 1950s-early 1960s world of the film from lurid clubs to country estates and the halls of government. Mike Molloy's cinematography is key to much of the film as it often gives the viewer a feeling of being a fly on the wall of the events taking place. There are moments also where it gives the viewer a feeling of what it must have been like as the scandal grows and the world closes around some of the characters. Angus Newton's editing helps that as well even though the film itself seems to be just a bit too long. All of this, under the superb direction of Caton-Jones makes the film's recreation of this world seemingly complete.
That wouldn't the case though without the script. Drawing from a number of different sources listed towards the end of the film's end credits, Scandal traces the journey from 1959 to 1963 as what starts out as Ward's attempt to introduce the beautiful, young Keeler to his friends in high places leads to a scandal that destroys the sitting British government. The script by Michael Thomas is more then just a simple accounting of the scandal though. It is a study of the different people involved in it and how, by accident more then design, then found themselves caught up in it. Scandal takes the viewer into a world of sex, booze and above all else hypocrisy. This is no better illustrated then in a scene early in the film where a group (including Ward and Keeler) are in a nightclub, surrounded by scantily clad women, celebrating the victory of the Conservative government in the 1959 UK general election. The result is an eye opening journey into the human side of an infamous political scandal.
From its first rate cast, production values, direction and script Scandal is a fine example of history being brought to life on film. It is a journey into a world of sex, booze and hypocrisy that bred an infamous scandal that brought down a sitting British government almost fifty years ago. It is also a journey into the human cost of that scandal told in a way that is haunting, realistic and perhaps even truthful as well.
The British have always enjoyed this kind of masochistic self-scrutiny, and what better wound to scratch than the notorious Profumo affair? The sex and treason scandal toppled England's conservative government in the early 1960s, and cost the life of at least one man: London doctor and celebrated freethinker Steven Ward, who enjoyed the heady, highbrow thrill of life in high places and understood how the quickest way into the corridors of power was through the pants of the men at the top. John Hurt manages to pull a sympathetic character out of the doctor's unsavory reputation, and freshman director Michael Caton-Jones recreates (with pitch-perfect sleaze) the boozy, lascivious mood of early '60s sex and politics. The details would have been compelling even without so much trendy visual overkill, but a little stylistic embellishment is to be expected in a film condensed to feature length from a proposed five-hour television miniseries. And although the script by Michael Thomas says nothing about power and privilege that isn't already common knowledge, it's nice to be reminded of the all-too human animal lurking just behind the typically English stiff upper lip.
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