Scandal (Palace 1988 with Joanne Whalley, Bridget Fonda and John Hurt)

UK / Palace – Miramax – British Screen / 115 minutes / 1989

Writer: Michael Thomas / Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Cast: John Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Bridget Fonda, Ian McKellen, Britt Ekland

Initially, writer Michael Thomas began interviewing survivors of the Profumo scandal of the 60s, which toppled the MacMillan government, for an 80s BBC drama series. However, the BBC, for their own reasons, withdrew support and his work became the basis of this film, which, while still featuring the elements of the scandal, concentrated as much on the relationship between Stephen Ward (John Hurt) and Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer).

In the late 50s, Ward was a successful osteopath (his clients included Churchill and Elizabeth Taylor), but one whose profession only took him to the fringes of a society he longed to join. One way of gaining membership was to introduce young, attractive women to prominent men, not for financial gain but for kudos and also the satisfaction of polishing young showgirls to pass as society girls.

One of these was Keeler, who, together with Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), became popular with businessmen, politicians and diplomats. Initially, all was for pleasure but when Keeler became involved with both a Russian “diplomat” and Secretary of State for War John Profumo (Ian McKellen), Ward found himself in a dangerous game with MI5. In 1962, after a violent attack from her boyfriend (Roland Gift), Keeler fled Ward and revealed all to the press. Prufomo was forced to resign, Ward committed suicide before he could face a jury verdict and Keeler and Rice-Davies were acquitted.

With a superb eye for the period and excellent casting, Caton-Jones’ film is a fascinating insight into political and sexual intrigue and scandal.