Review by Victoria Alexander
Another standardized Kelley production with enough twists to keep one watching.
I’ll admit it. I binged on all of ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL in one sitting. Based on the novel by Sarah Vaughan, it is another David E. Kelley production. I’m also watching his series BIG SKY (only because I love Lagertha). Kelley’s outrageous productivity means I have recently seen THE UNDOING, BIG LITTLE LIES and NINE PERFECT STRANGERS. I assume Kelley really likes Nicole Kidman since she has been in all three. Sadly, NINE PERFECT STRANGERS had Kidman’s hilarious accent and New Age attitude and THE UNDOING was just a fashion show for Kidman’s hair and her walking with purpose around New York. At least in BIG LITTLE LIES, Kidman was cast with Alexander Skarsgård as her younger, but obsessed with her, husband. They had horny, violent lovemaking. But Kidman’s character was wracked with guilt over liking it.
I have never watched Kelley’s ALLY MCBEAL, BOSTON LEGAL or THE PRACTICE.
Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue (2022) had a fascinating expose of exalted film composers as frauds. “The Minions Do the Actual Writing”: The Ugly Truth of How Movie Scores Are Made by Mark Rozzo. The shocking truth is that big name film composers farm their scores out to uncredited “ghost composers.” The name composer sets the ‘tonal palette’ and then the minions do the actual writing. These ghost composers are assigned a number of “cues”: bits of the score that will accompany specific scenes. The lead composer—whose name will go on the final product—has worked up the overall direction.
Kelley’s prodigious output resembles the assembly-line studios of artists such as Mark Kostabi and Jeff Koons. In 2013, Insider posted an article titled: “People Are Furious With Damien Hirst For Not Making His Own Art.” The article states that in 2013 there were nearly 1,400 of Damien Hirst's "spot" paintings in existence. The artist has only painted around 25 of them himself. The article states: “So who made the other 1,340 or so paintings, which regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars? They were done by Hirst's coterie of assistants — a well-known fact. Even so, Hirst told Reuters in 2012 that "every single spot painting contains my eye, my hand, and my heart." And they all contain his signature.
So far, Kelley’s output has caused no such scandal. There is no Kelley Team writing all those wordy scripts. But they do follow a pattern, a formula. In ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, only star Sienna Miller’s Sophie is blameless, everyone else has something to hide.
Handsome British politician, James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend), is the “favorite” of the Prime Minister. They go way back. James is on the right side of politics and has a brilliant career ahead of him. James’ wife is the beautiful Sophie (Sienna Miller). They have an enviable life. Sophie is devoted to their children and her husband. So why did James have a five-month affair with a young researcher, Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott)? What is Sophie lacking that made James risk his political career and marriage? Possibly it was the seductive posturing of Olivia. But James is made of more moral stuff than that. He admits he made a mistake once in 12 years of marriage.
James’ affair becomes public knowledge when Olivia claims that, after James ended their affair, he raped her. Legal procedures begin against James.
When James tells Sophie that the affair will be on the front pages the next day, she asks for details of the affair. James admits to having sex with Olivia 20 to 30 times. Sophie does not bother to do the math but I did. That’s a hell of a lot of working late at the office. Sophie is not about to give up her privileged life over an office dalliance.
There are flashbacks to the illicit affair, James’ time at Oxford and his courtship of Sophie. James is part of the elite Oxford clan and destined for success. His best friend would become Prime Minister and, as it turns out, would bring James along on his political ambitions. Not that James was unworthy. He has charm and dedication and causes.
James might well be the camera-ready “golden boy” of politics, but prosecutor Kate Woodcraft (Michelle Dockery) has never crossed paths with him. Kate desperately wants to prosecute the case against James. It means something to her but we do not know why.
When the puppy James brings home suddenly is running around on a leash, we know time has passed and James’ trial is about to begin. If James is lying about raping Olivia, up to this point, he is too good a guy to be spending 12 years as an imposter.
It’s Sophie who begins to feel the effects. Her social friends treat her as a pariah.
The story takes a sharp turn when James calls the Prime Minister asking for him support. “You owe me.” Okay, now there is some scandal below the surface. What did James do for his friend who promised him his loyalty for life?
The press starts asking questions about the Oxford cabal known as the “Libertines.” Does James have to “fall on his sword” to save the PM? In flashback, we see the ugly mess.
Director S.J. Clarkson brings Sophie in the elevator with James and Olivia. By this time I said James did not rape Olivia. There wasn’t one moment where his faithful husband stance slipped. Didn’t something like this happen in THE UNDOING?
James has a brilliant lawyer but soon enough the secrets are slowly revealed as the episodes go on. The resolution is obvious but is logically flawed. If you condemn a bunch of deceivers as party to a scandal, do you leave one of the main participants out because you don’t want to hurt her career?
Miller, who has been heroically moving away from her femme fatale image, captures all the light in every scene she is in. Dockery has the unfortunate role as a one-dimensional prosecutor dedicated to her work. She does get a love scene so she is not a workaholic lesbian. Friend never betrays his manufactured good guy appeal, so it’s hard to accept the turn of events. By the time you have considered the unlikeliness of the plot, you have been invested and need to see the resolution – even if you know what is coming and do not believe it would ever happen in this way in real life.
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