Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Screenplay:Michael Thomas
Stars: John Hurt (Stephen Ward), Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (Christine Keeler), BridgetFonda (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 wasrocked with a sex scandal involving Macmillan's Secretary of War, John Profumo, and ayoung woman named Christine Keeler. The fact that the married Profumo was having anillicit relationship with a woman that many characterized as a high-price call girl wascertainly questionable, but not enough to topple a government. However, the fact that, atthe onset of the Cold War, Keeler was simultaneously sleeping with Captain Ivanov, anaval 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, butnot in the manner one might expect. All the political intrigue is there, and it ends with thetorrid spectacle of Keeler being brought before Judge Alfred T. Denning and grilled abouther sexual escapades with high-ranking British officials. But, in some ways, all of the furyof the scandal itself is secondary to the film's main objective, which is charting therelationship 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 ofBritish political power by grooming young women and introducing them to importantpeople. 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. Thecourt proves that money and gifts were often exchanged between Keeler and her sexualpartners, but as the film makes clear, monetary incentives were of no real importance toeither 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 wascertainly unsavory from a certain point of view. But, Ward was a libertine, a man whoconstantly insists throughout the film that "we are all flesh," and giving in to that fact isonly natural. "There's no harm in it as long as nobody gets hurt," he says. "The troublewith this world is that everybody's afraid to enjoy themselves or they're too ashamed toadmit it." Ward is not ashamed to admit that he likes to enjoy himself, and his view of lifeis infectious. When Keeler admits before the court that Ward controlled her mind, it is notso 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 sleptwith each other and never considered their dealings to be business-related. In the film'sopening scene, Ward discovers Keeler working as an exotic dancer. She later comes to livewith him while he grooms her and then brings her to parties where she meets men like JohnProfumo (Ian McKellen). The film does not shy away from depicting the early stages ofwhat 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 hadto be snipped in order to garner an R-rating) and the introduction of marijuana and otherdrugs.

Keeler is something of a paradox because, despite all of her illicit behavior, she retains acertain aura of innocence that is unshakeable. Part of it is due to her devotion to Ward, onwhose shoulder she cries when she feels lost; part of it is also due to the actress who playsher, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, whose large, oval eyes are almost like those of a deer. Keeleris nicely contrasted with Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), another young woman whoenters Ward's fold. Rice-Davies is much more calculating and cynical, and we learn a greatdeal 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 musicand a melodramatic investment in the characters that redeems the salacious story. He ismore interested in the people rather than the parts they played in a national scandal. Ofcourse, these people are intimately bound up in those events, but his emphasis on therelationships rather than the investigations gives us a more privileged view on what it feelslike for the private to be made public, and the life-and-death ramifications that follow.

This DVD contains the complete 114-minute cut ofScandal, which retains several minutes of footage that had to be cut for the 1989U.S. theatrical release in order to avoid an X-rating.
AudioDolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Supplements Originaltheatrical trailer
DistributorAnchorBay Entertainment

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

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

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

Copyright © 2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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