BBC reveal ‘A Very British Scandal’

Boxing Day:A Very British Scandal; (BBC1, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Saturday, 25th December 2021, 5:00 pm
Ian Campbell and Margaret
Ian Campbell and Margaret

Claire Foy is no stranger to dramas about 20th-century history.

Although the actress won acclaim for her performances in dramas ranging from Little Dorrit to Wolf Hall (in which she played Anne Boleyn), it was her role as Queen Elizabeth II in the first two series of Netflix hit The Crown that really made her a star.

She picked up a clutch of awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series earlier this year after she briefly reprised the role in a season-four flashback.

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However, while the Queen in The Crown has been forced to deal with plenty of scandals, most of them involved other members of her family or her government – she was impeccably behaved.

In the new series A Very British Scandal, which is showing across three consecutive evenings, Claire plays someone at the very heart of the storm – Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Initially famed for her charismas, beauty and style, she found herself on the front pages for very different reasons due to her 1963 divorce. The case took in accusations of forgery, theft, violence, drug-taking, bribery, and an explicit Polaroid picture that was to haunt her for the rest of her life.

It’s a story that has long fascinated writer Sarah Phelps, who has previously adapted numerous Agatha Christie novels for the BBC.

Phelps says: “Writing the story of Margaret’s life and the events leading up to and including her divorce from the Duke has been a passion project of mine since 1993 when I first heard her name and started learning about her. I felt very strongly that she’d been punished for being a woman, for being visible, for refusing to back down, be a good girl and go quietly. This drama is my tribute to her.”

Claire added: “I’m so excited to work… on this extraordinary project, and to explore through this story, how often shame, judgement and controversy surrounds a woman’s sexuality.”

The drama begins with heiress Margaret Sweeny preparing to finalise her divorce from her first husband, when she meets the dashing Captain Ian Campbell (Marvel star Paul Bettany).

She finds herself falling for him – and the fairy-tale, if dilapidated, castle he’ll inherit when he becomes the Duke of Carlyle.

After he gains the title, he shows Margaret a treasure-filled shipwreck he has the salvage rights to, and she becomes convinced he will succeed where many of his ancestors have failed by recovering the jewels on board.

He proposes, and Mary sets about renovating his ancestral home and encouraging her father to fund the raising of the shipwreck. However, her mother has reservations – not least because Ian is still married to Louise ‘Oui Oui’ Campbell (Sophia Myles), who is humiliated that the couple are going out together in public.

Eventually, the Duke is free to wed Margaret, but the honeymoon-phase proves surprisingly short-lived. And it seems that although Margaret may be the new Duchess, Oui Oui is going to be more of a presence in their lives than expected…

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