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Do I think there is more than one James Whitehouse in Westminster today? Sadly yes: Caroline Nokes reviews 'Anatomy of a Scandal'

Do I think there is more than one James Whitehouse in Westminster today? Sadly yes: Caroline Nokes reviews 'Anatomy of a Scandal'

Netflix / Ana Cristina Blumenkron

4 min read

Whilst parts of this Netflix drama are laughably inaccurate, Anatomy of a Scandal’s portrayal of the entitled arrogance of some male Members of Parliament, and the distain with which women in politics are still held, is both realistic and disturbing.

Anatomy of a Scandal lays bare what some of us know about some of our so-called political elites but find deeply uncomfortable – and hence shy away from.

Netflix’s controversial new six-part drama series tackles themes of sexual assault, power and consent in the #Metoo era, exploring the impact on the marriage of a fictional Conservative minister, James Whitehouse, following revelations of an affair with his parliamentary researcher, Olivia Lytton – and his subsequently being charged with rape.

What I loathed most about him was his sheer entitled arrogance, and not just over the disputed incident in the lift – had Olivia consented or not?

Woven throughout the series, in numerous exchanges, is the hideous family motto that “Whitehouses always win”. I couldn’t help but reflect that James Whitehouse (actor Rupert Friend) might have been a better person, and indeed a better MP, if he had come a cropper in a key marginal seat at some point. And if you encourage your child to cheat at Monopoly can it be any surprise if they can’t grasp the rules the rest of us live by later in life?

Some of the characters were phenomenally realistic - and all the more disturbing because of it

In flashbacks to his time at university, the tailcoated Hooray Henrys of his student club, Libertines, were clearly supposed to be an echo of Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club – and the plan to make one of its members, Tom Southern, (played by Geoffrey Streatfeild) prime minister had been a lifetime in the making. But it just left you thinking the unctuous Whitehouse had spent his entire life getting away with things and who – even when the suspicion was that he had been wrongly accused – was impossible to like.

His vile arrogance, clearly egged on by his mother from birth, made me want to scream, but I could only cheer for his long-suffering wife, Sophie (played by Sienna Miller). If I had been married to him you would have caught me hiding in the garden chain smoking in every episode.

Sophie had the measure of right and wrong and would have clearly made a far better MP than her husband. I could unkindly point out that Westminster is full of political families where the same could be said. Sophie appeared to have it all, the perfect children, the cliché of the Labrador puppy, a notionally good looking and successful husband, only to find out he was a member of the cake and eat it club.

The real scene stealer throughout was the vile spad, Chris Clarke (Joshua McGuire). Unfair to suggest he was modelled on any real person, he was the sort of wide-boy media manager, retained to give a bit of gritty reality to the over-entitled, that is all too common here. The way he spoke to Sophie emphasised the disdain with which women are still regarded in Westminster – there to be curated into an appropriate role, tolerated for the impression they can give, but barely accepted.

Do I think there is more than one James Whitehouse in Westminster today? Sadly yes. The Sunday Times is drip feeding us the evidence of that. In the fictional Westminster it was clear the victim, Olivia, (Naomi Scott) was getting little help and support, which reinforces the enduring sense of a similar dynamic in the real world. 

Bits of Anatomy of a Scandal were so inaccurate they were laughable, not least the Commons chamber portrayal with furniture purloined from a dolls house and the use of Members’ names. But some of the characters? They were phenomenally realistic – and all the more disturbing because of it.

Caroline Nokes is the Conservative MP for Romsey & Southampton North.

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