Tracing the story of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll’s high-profile divorce in conservative 1960s England, the series stars Claire Foy (“The Crown”) opposite Paul Bettany (“WandaVision”). From February 4 on SALTO.
In 2018, A Very English Scandal, the first season of a BBC anthology series retracing the most significant cases in contemporary UK history, tackled that of the trial of Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) in 1979, leader of the Liberal Party accused of attempting to have her former lover (Ben Whishaw) murdered, all directed by Russell T. Davies (It’s a Sin).
Three later, the mini-series A Very British Scandal (still in three episodes) created by Sarah Phelps (The Pale Horse) this time relates the highly publicized divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in the 1960s in England. A conservative era that did not give a gift to Margaret of Argyll, a socialite who paid dearly for her liberated morals ahead of her time.
When she asks her husband for a divorce, Ian, an alcoholic and neglectful, does everything to discredit her. To smear his image in the press, he goes so far as to broadcast intimate photos of his wife without her consent, making Margaret the first victim of revenge porn Of the history.
In the role of the Duke of Argyll, the actor Paul Bettany, known internationally through the role of Vision in the Marvel Avengers saga and the WandaVision series, gives the reply to Claire Foy, who plays here another role of royal blood after playing Queen Elizabeth II in the first two seasons of The Crown.
“I spoke with Sarah Phelps, the screenwriter, who was really brilliant. I then had a long interview with the director, Anne Sewitsky. She presented her vision for the series to me and it seemed like to be something very sincere, something that I had never seen before”he explains, retracing his arrival on the project. “I liked the idea of a Norwegian director, an ‘outsider’, doing a series about the British class system.”
A tale of one woman’s public humiliation and the misogyny of an era, A Very British Scandal also explores class warfare, according to the actor. “Margaret is a defector, she comes from a different class. His father was a worker, a man who built himself. She has risen on her own into the aristocracy, and when the scandal breaks, this whole caste protects Ian and destroys him (…) All his so-called friends turn their backs on him. There’s a real sense of horror in there. In this, I find the series particularly British.”
To interpret Ian, Paul Bettany drew on many articles and works on the Argyll family, even if, he moderates, all were written by men, which potentially biases the image that could be painted. from him. Born in France, he fought in World War II, before being captured and sent to a prison camp where he was tortured and starved. He then inherited the Duchy of Argyll following the death of his cousin in 1949, and married Margaret Whigham in third marriage two years later.
“What came out of the research that I did was that there was a lot of intergenerational damage going on in this family.I think that [Ian] felt like a failure all his life, and a deep self-hatred flowed from it (…) I think he was really sadistic; he liked to torture people, and in particular the women who shared his life. Ian was kind of an undiagnosed narcissistic pervert. And having spent almost thirty years in the film industry, I didn’t have to look far to find narcissistic perverts that I could draw inspiration from”he quips.
If Margaret fails to obtain a divorce from Ian, the latter ends up paying dearly for his victory, since he dies shortly after the end of their relationship from the consequences of his various addictions to alcohol, tobacco and amphetamines. “I think Margaret wins in the end by refusing to continue playing this game with him. Ian didn’t survive very long after she left her.”
Praising the work of his on-screen partner, Paul Bettany reveals that the reason he agreed to star in the series, even before knowing the subject, was that it was a project with Claire Foy, winner of the Golden Globes for her performance in The Crown. “She’s an incredible actress. she’s a spectacular actress. And I felt like she would be a really fun playmate to work with. And indeed, it was!“
When asked about the big gap represented by a malevolent character like the Duke of Argyll after a solar character like that of Vision in the MCU, Paul Bettany answers with amusement. “It’s nice to have different programs, you know. Going from someone incredibly warm, the personification of human warmth and love for his wife, to someone who is the embodiment of cold cruelty and self-centered narcissism… It was a real breath of fresh air to be naughty!“