Sienna Miller plays Sophie Whitehouse in Anatomy of a Scandal
In a week where the British Prime Minister and other senior politicians and civil servants were fined for flaunting lockdown laws, a new series arrives that examines the place privilege plays in our power systems.
Anatomy of a Scandal sinks its teeth into corruption and criminality at the heart of government. It feels like it could have been ripped straight from contemporaneous headlines but is actually based on a thriller by Sarah Vaughan.
Sienna Miller plays Sophie Whitehouse, wife to high-flying smarmy but charming (Conservative) politician, James Whitehouse (played by Rupert Friend) who’s found out to be having an affair with one of his assistants. Happily, Whitehouse is an old pal of the PM, who sticks by his friend even after he’s accused of rape.
As a court case progresses, and twist after dizzying twist unravels the apparently perfect existence of Miller’s character, she’s torn between playing the role of the supportive wife to protect her family or accept that by doing so she’s complicit in a rotten system built on privilege and power.
“The show really looks at the trajectory these people are on from birth – going to Eton, going to Oxford,” Miller says. “There is a grooming of privilege that causes people to behave in a way where they have an absolutely different set of rules for themselves than they do for other people. And unfortunately, these are the people often running our country.”
But, Miller adds, it’s not really their fault.
“They’ve never questioned their role in anything because they feel entitled to absolutely everything. A lot of Sophie’s journey is realising what she’s doing to her children by enabling this system of elitism and superiority and impunity.
“It’s not that James Whitehouse is a terrible father or a terrible husband. In some ways, you’re rooting for that marriage because you believe in the love, and yet is he capable of these atrocities?
“He is absolutely convinced of his own innocence and it’s that kind of blinkered behaviour that is at the heart of whatever is corrupt that we’re seeing playing out in our world today, and it is wrong.”
Is Britain uniquely set-up as a breeding ground for scandal because of the way our society is structured?
“The class system is very pinned upon the English, but I think it exists everywhere,” Miller says. “I’ve lived in America for six years, and it may be structured in a different way, but it totally exists.
“I think that the house of cards is beginning to topple somewhat. The public are asking really important questions. And we’ll see what happens. But it is the right time for a show like this for sure.
“Five years ago, I’m not sure that this show would have been made because people weren’t willing to peek behind the curtain of privilege and how that plays into the people who are running the country.
“This issue of consent and rape and how difficult it is to prosecute, is incredibly important. But women’s issues weren’t focused on really until the #MeToo movement and the pendulum really started to swing to hold the patriarchy to account.”
The #MeToo movement certainly generated much debate, but progress is debatable. For example, this week, a new report was published finding reports of rape are at an all-time high but prosecution rates at an all-time low.
“I don’t know enough about that to comment, to be perfectly honest,” Miller says. “Perhaps people are reporting it more because they feel empowered to do so. That doesn’t mean that prosecuting it is any easier, especially within the context of a relationship. I mean, marital rape wasn’t even considered rape until 1991.
“There’s a long way to go with all of this stuff. I’m not an expert, I’m an actor. But I’m really glad that we’re making a show that will hopefully cause people to ask questions.
“And it’s polarising, what we’ve made. Some people will watch it and have a different opinion on the outcome to somebody else, and that could inspire a big argument around a dinner table. That’s what we were hoping for in the making of it.”
Anatomy of a Scandal is available on Netflix from 15 April
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