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‘Scandal is a film about a country enduring its third term of Conservative government. and the whole spiritual. moral and social bankruptcy that inevitably comes from that. We see individuals suffering at the hands of a self-interested and dictatorial establishment which really hasn‘t changed too much.‘ So says Scottish director Michael Caton—Jones of his feature film debut. a rivetting screen exploration of the personalities and tangled passions behind the Profumo affair of 1963. which stars John Hurt. Joanne
Whalley and Ian McKellen. Sureliootedly delves behind the Sunday tabloid revelations that the then War Minister John l’rol‘umo
(McKellen) had lied to the Commons when he denied any sexual involvement with one Christine Keeler (Whalley). who also numbered Russian agent Eugene lvanov amongst her lovers. the movie compassionately examines the terrible cost paid by the unlikely figure at the centre ofit all. Christine‘s mentor. London osteopath Stephen Ward (a brilliant John Hurt). found himself made the scapegoat for the whole debacle by his former friends in the high society set. and committed suicide rather than be found guilty of the trumped-up charges of living off immoral earnings which had been concocted against him.
Caton-Jones sees all this as a watershed in the breaking down of moribund British attitudes to sexuality and a key moment in identifying the start ofthose permissive Swinging Sixties (‘It must have been incredible at the time reading about this and thinking These people running the country. what are they up to.’ Like hearing that Margaret Thatcher picks up rent boys.’). but its portrayal ofa hypocritical Establishment‘s facility
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for destroying lives gives it a certain contemporary edge. As Michael so elegantly puts it: ‘That a man like Parkinson. who‘s capable ofdoing what he did. is in charge of my destiny. well. fuck that for a caper.‘
Yet for all its ideological charge. he is keen to explain that the essence of the film is not in the recreation of socio-cultural turmoil but in its study ofpersonal relationships. for it focusses primarily on the deep bond between Ward and Keeler. and so offers a strong narrative appeal for Eighties audiences who might not necessarily know (or care much) about the historical details. ‘Politics is an abstract thing.‘ he observes. ‘but human emotion is universal. The important thing was to show that Ward. whom many people might regard as a salacious sleazebag. was just an ordinary Joe. No one can suffer. or elicit sympathy as well as John l-lurt.‘
The confidence and downright elan
HOPEFUL LEIGH ‘I believe in cinema. I grew up in it. I believe in that kind ofcommunal experience. and in the truly international medium. So for sixteen years I‘ve been trying to do features. and this is just the one that happened. Not a moment too soon either.‘ Following up his acclaimed 1971 debut Bleak Moments has not been easy for writer/ director Mike Leigh. who‘s become better known for his classic television work like Abigail's Party ( 1977). Grown Ups ( 1980) and Meantime ( 1984) in the lengthy period it‘s taken for him to find the finance for his second cinema outing High Hopes. which tackles the survival of humane values in a serio-comic study of youth and old age in Thatcher‘s Britain.
‘lt‘s about the way things are. the way a lot of people in this country feel at the moment.‘ Leigh continues. ‘My old dad died four years ago. so that explains the personal things about ageing in it. But the treatment oers Bender. the prematurely senile pensioner. brings out a lot of issues concerning the family.
and how we take care of people in this country today. I would say that the film is more overtly political than anything l‘ve done before.‘ Following Leigh's j customary working methods of developing the script through an intensive and lengthy period of rehearsal and improvisation. he has ' produced a passionate vision of a divided society. with the kindly leftist viewpoint of modest London couple (‘yril and Shirley vividly contrasted . with the rampant materialism of their shrill nouveaux riches relations. and the deeply ingrained snobbery ofthe upper I | ,
While the merciless portrayal of the
With \V’thh [DC Al )‘Citl -U|u immune.» material of some depth is sure to create a flurry ofcritical excitement. for the film‘s combination of story-telling poise. emotional punch and the flip entertainment value of its knowing sexuality is certainly one to cherish. Having worked as a London stagehand in the late Seventies. and progressing via a trio ofearly shorts to the National Film School (‘best year of my life‘). (‘aton—Jones cut his television teeth with the stylistic frenzy ofcult Scots mini—series Brontl. Yet with .S'cantlal's auspicious entry to silver screendom securely behind him he has already started work on his next project. Southern Belle. a tense WWII story about the young crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress trying to complete their 25-mission tour of duty. ‘I‘ve had enough shagging. this has the feel of a John Ford picture.‘ claims the self-confessed ‘Joe Schmo from Broxburn'. (Trevor Johnston)
if? obnoxiously snooty Boothe-Braines has met with some critical resistance. Leigh defends the use ofcomic
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The List 24 February — 9 March 11