Q&A: A Very English Scandal with Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Russell T Davies & Stephen Frears

WHERE: BAFTA

WHEN: 18/4/18, 3 episodes start on BBC1 in May

‘Join the Liberals and widen your circle,’ jokes Hugh Grant to many laughs during this star-studded Q&A after a world premiere screening of the first of three episodes of A Very English Scandal which is to air on BBC1 next month.

  • Read on for reasons including how Sir Ian McKellen turned down a part in this

Grant is remembering how his school chums referred to the Jeremy Thorpe affair which saw the former leader of the Liberal Party tried and cleared at the Old Bailey in 1979 on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder former lover Norman Scott.

A Very English Scandal is written by Russell T Davies (Queer As Folk, Doctor Who, Cucumber) and based on the John Preston novel of the same name which was published in 2016, two years after Thorpe’s death.

Grant (Paddington 2, Florence Foster Jenkins) plays Thorpe and the revelation from the Q&A is just how funny and self-deprecating he is in real life.

‘It’s unlike me to do any prep,’ he deadpans. ‘But I was in quite a panic about this project because of the respect I have for both Ben and Stephen.’

Referring to starring with Whishaw in his last two projects (the other being Paddington 2), he says: ‘I’ve been trying to either shag or kill Ben for the last two years. Well, tonight’s the night!’

Davies explains why he was drawn to Preston’s book: ‘It’s funny and dark. But also the story of a middle-aged man who falls in love with a younger attractive guy who takes too much drink and drugs. That’s a Friday night!

‘But also there’s a point when a character introduces herself as Mrs Edna Friendship. That’s her real name. You couldn’t write stuff like this. I thought: ‘I’m doing this.’

‘And if any other bastard gets their hands on this, I’ll kill them.’

Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears and The Queen) went to school with both the late Peter Cook and Sir Ian McKellen. He thinks McKellen turned down the judge part in this because of the definitive biased judge Cook is renowned for.

Whishaw plays Norman and met him to get a feel for him rather than to do an impersonation. He says: ‘He’s a 70-something year-old who was attractive and very flirty.’

Grant was mystified by his casting. ‘I’m about 400 years too old to play Thorpe at the beginning.’

Davies described Norman as the ‘great survivor’ and says the series has his blessing. ‘He’s seen it and loved and was moved by it.

‘I didn’t want to retry both men. I wanted it to be a very forgiving piece that tries to understand them.’

We saw the 1st episode and can’t wait to see the final 2. It’s a story that’s difficult to believe could ever happen today although, as Davies points out, as work on the project was underway politician Keith Vaz was making headlines.

Regular readers of this site will know what fans of both Whishaw and Davies we are but the revelation here is Grant, who we loved in Florence Foster Jenkins, but here utterly convinces as the vain politician who thinks the very establishment that frowns upon his homosexuality will ultimately protect him.

Entwined with this story is that of badger-loving Arthur ‘Boofy’ Gore, the 8th Earl of Arran, who helped decriminalise homosexuality in 1967 and why he did so.

Fans of Davies’ enthusiasm for his trademark cocktail of emotional, bitter and comic will find much to revel in here.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy BAFTA . Tickets for events like these
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