Scandal (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Politician has an affair.

Based on the Profumo affair that rocked the British parliament in 1963 the story centers around an exotic dancer named Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) who catches the eye of Stephen Ward (John Hurt) a doctor with a thing for attractive young ladies. She moves in with him and the two share an unusual relationship where he pimps her and her friend Mandy (Bridget Fonda) out to members of the conservative party. Her sexual affair with one of the high-ranking officials of parliament, John Profumo (Ian McKellen) eventually reaches the attention of the press and leads to far-reaching ramifications for all involved.

Part of why this movie didn’t work for me and may not for others is that politicians getting involved in a scandal is no longer a big deal. We’re living in an age where political figures have been caught having affairs, even while in office, and it isn’t enough to have them removed. Yet this film expects the viewer to be in jaw-dropping shock from the first frame to the last even though in this cynical age it would be more shocking if one actually lived a squeaky clean life.

The first hour meanders along from one racy sex scene to the next until it almost seems like a soft core porn flick with no story. I had no idea where any of this cavorting around was going to lead and wasn’t really all that intrigued in finding out either. First time director Michael Caton-Jones takes too much of a detached approach to his characters. They all come off like wild sexual animals unable to control their inner urges, but with no other discernible differences making everything that goes on seem like one giant frolicking blur with no point.

Hurt gives a great performance, but I didn’t understand the motivations of his character. Why doesn’t he want to sleep with Christine and instead get more turned-on listening to her stories about her having sex with other men? What about him makes him this way, which the film should’ve helped answer, but doesn’t.

Whalley is too old for her part as she was supposed to be playing someone who was 19, but in reality was already 29. Having a true 19-year-old play the part, and have a definite look of innocence about her, may have given the provocative material a little more bite.  Her character also has the same issues as with Hurts. I got how she wanted to get away from her impoverished surroundings and sleeping with rich influential men could help her do that, but I didn’t understand why she liked her Hurt, or their unusual relationship.

The film ends with the court proceedings, which like with everything else doesn’t have the impact that it should. While the attention to detail and accuracy is impressive it would’ve worked better had it began with the trial and then worked backwards through flashback showing how they all got there instead of the linear narrative that it does take, which is too plodding. Focusing on only one of two characters would’ve helped too instead of trying to encompass so many of them where none of them are all that interesting or distinct.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

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