28 January 2020 | paul2001sw-1
Not bad, but 'Scandal' was more succinct
Profumo was the scandal that had everything: the minister! the spy! the call girl! the man in the mask! Ostensibly, this drama focuses on Christine Keeler, the primary young woman involved in the scandal, but like most latter-day accounts come to concentrate almost inevitably on the figure of the pimp. In fact, Stephen Ward wasn't really a pimp, more of a scapegoat, a social climbing osteopath who traded for status, not for money, introducing pretty young girls to an elite social circle. On one hand, it's hard to see his actions (and, indeed, the scandal in toto) as amounting to very much: men like to be around pretty girls, and rich and glamorous men can manage this, maybe even without having to explicitly pay - and it's nonsense to pretend that there's never any transactional quality to sex. On the other hand, there might seem to be something wrong when, in words attributed to Valerie Profumo in this drama, "life as a teenage girl is like being invited to a wonderful picnic, then discovering that you're the sandwich." Ward is hardly an admirable figure; but after the affair had nearly brought down the government, he was (absurdly) prosecuted for living off immoral earnings, and, abandoned by his high society friends, committed suicide.
'The Trial of Christine Keeler' is not bad, but it is quite long - the film 'Scandal' dealt with the same material more succinctly. It's portrayal of Keeler is persuasive but not so interesting; James Norton plays Ward, and although at first I disliked the performance (not because it was bad, simply because I loved John Hurt's more sympathetic performance in 'Scandal'), it grew on me. Some of the best content is on its depiction of the Profumos, in the background in 'Scandal', but here we get a compelling portrait of Jack's sense of entitlement, while also seeing how his marriage managed to work, and survive in spite of public humiliation.
Today the Profumo affair might seem to belong to a more innocent age, when we expected our supposed betters to behave (or at least, to misbehave in private) - it seems surprising that a tenuous connection between a minister and a spy could have been enough to ultimately play a large part in the resignation of a previously popular prime minister. But the era of "me too" has not just exposed stories of genuinely monstrous behaviour, but also raised questions about how women still have to negotiate a world where men hold all the cards. Ward was no Weinstein; but some of the issues are the same.