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Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Screenplay: Michael Thomas
Stars: John Hurt (Stephen Ward), Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (Christine Keeler), Bridget Fonda (Mandy Rice-Davies), Ian McKellen (John Profumo), Leslie Phillips (Lord Astor), Britt Ekland (Mariella Novotny), Roland Gift (Johnnie Edgecombe), Jeroen Krabbé (Eugene Ivanov)
MPAA Rating:NR
Year of Release: 1989
Country: UK
Scandal Poster

In 1963, the Conservative government of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was rocked with a sex scandal involving Macmillan's Secretary of War, John Profumo, and a young woman named Christine Keeler. The fact that the married Profumo was having an illicit relationship with a woman that many characterized as a high-price call girl was certainly questionable, but not enough to topple a government. However, the fact that, at the onset of the Cold War, Keeler was simultaneously sleeping with Captain Ivanov, a naval attaché of the Soviet embassy in London and a likely spy was.

The story of "The Profumo Affair" is retold in Michael Caton-Jones' Scandal, but not in the manner one might expect. All the political intrigue is there, and it ends with the torrid spectacle of Keeler being brought before Judge Alfred T. Denning and grilled about her sexual escapades with high-ranking British officials. But, in some ways, all of the fury of the scandal itself is secondary to the film's main objective, which is charting the relationship between Keeler (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) and Dr. Stephen Ward (John Hurt), an high society doctor who introduced Keeler to the world of sex and politics.

Ward is a fascinating and somewhat sad character who moved in the highest circles of British political power by grooming young women and introducing them to important people. In the end, the government determined that this was nothing less than prostitution, but the film argues that, at least in his relationship with Keeler, it was something else. The court proves that money and gifts were often exchanged between Keeler and her sexual partners, but as the film makes clear, monetary incentives were of no real importance to either her or Ward.

Ward simply wanted to be part of the power elite, to mix and mingle with those in power, not to gain power himself, but simply to be associated. His method for doing so was certainly unsavory from a certain point of view. But, Ward was a libertine, a man who constantly insists throughout the film that "we are all flesh," and giving in to that fact is only natural. "There's no harm in it as long as nobody gets hurt," he says. "The trouble with this world is that everybody's afraid to enjoy themselves or they're too ashamed to admit it." Ward is not ashamed to admit that he likes to enjoy himself, and his view of life is infectious. When Keeler admits before the court that Ward controlled her mind, it is not so much an admission of his dominating her, but of her joining in his world view.

The screenplay by Michael Thomas centers on the relationship between Ward and Keeler, showing how, despite the court's findings otherwise, they could be friends who never slept with each other and never considered their dealings to be business-related. In the film's opening scene, Ward discovers Keeler working as an exotic dancer. She later comes to live with him while he grooms her and then brings her to parties where she meets men like John Profumo (Ian McKellen). The film does not shy away from depicting the early stages of what would become the "Swinging London" scene in the 1960s, complete with lavish, upscale orgies (one of which was a little too explicit for the MPAA ratings board and had to be snipped in order to garner an R-rating) and the introduction of marijuana and other drugs.

Keeler is something of a paradox because, despite all of her illicit behavior, she retains a certain aura of innocence that is unshakeable. Part of it is due to her devotion to Ward, on whose shoulder she cries when she feels lost; part of it is also due to the actress who plays her, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, whose large, oval eyes are almost like those of a deer. Keeler is nicely contrasted with Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), another young woman who enters Ward's fold. Rice-Davies is much more calculating and cynical, and we learn a great deal about both of them in their conversations about men and sex.

Caton-Jones, in his directorial debut, punches up the narrative with late '50s rock music and a melodramatic investment in the characters that redeems the salacious story. He is more interested in the people rather than the parts they played in a national scandal. Of course, these people are intimately bound up in those events, but his emphasis on the relationships rather than the investigations gives us a more privileged view on what it feels like for the private to be made public, and the life-and-death ramifications that follow.

Scandal DVD
This DVD contains the complete 114-minute cut of Scandal, which retains several minutes of footage that had to be cut for the 1989 U.S. theatrical release in order to avoid an X-rating.
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Supplements Original theatrical trailer
DistributorAnchor Bay Entertainment

Scandal is presented in a new anamorphic transfer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is generally good, although it does seem a bit soft throughout. Detail level remains high, though, and colors look solid and well-saturated. Flesh tones (of which there are plenty) appear natural, and black levels remain consistently solid, with only the vaguest hint of grain.

The soundtrack is available in either Dolby 2.0 surround or newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Both soundtracks sound crisp and clear, with the 5.1 track adding additional depth and surround to the film's music. The majority of the film is dialogue, and it is really only in transition scenes that the speakers are filled with period rock music.

The only supplement provided is the original theatrical trailer, in anamorphic widescreen and stereo sound.

Overall Rating: (3)

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