Michael Caton-Jones (director)
BFI Film (studio)
24 February 2020 (released)
25 February 2020
Hot on the heels of the recent BBC One six-parter ‘The Trial of Christine Keeler’ comes the world-wide Blu-ray release of SCANDAL, the 1989 movie starring Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as Keeler and a miscast Ian McKellen as Tory Secretary of State of War, John Profumo whose affair with her had widespread consequences.
The film begins with osteopath and artist Stephen Ward (John Hurt) enjoying a night out at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho. There he attracts the attention (or was it the other way around) of young ‘exotic dancer’ Christine Keeler. In a side-plot we learn how another aspiring nude dancer, Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), tries to upstage Keeler during a performance. The two girls later become friends and it’s not before long when Ward, who has befriended Keeler, offers her to move into his pad in Marylebone. Moving in important social circles, Ward then introduces both Keeler (and later Mandy) to ‘gentlemen of influence’ and it is during one such gathering that a nude Keeler bumps into John Profumo (you can’t help but being amused at the sight of a butt-naked Joanne Whalley squeezed against McKellen). As party excesses and the constant high life take its toll things get considerably worse for Profumo when the scandal over his alleged affair with Keeler begins to make headlines – an affair he initially denies.
Soon the gutter-press and other assorted pests are on the trail of Ward and Keeler… but especially Ward who finds himself in the dock on charges of ‘procuring’ young girls to the elite in exchange for money (though according to Keeler both she and Mandy never gave any money to Ward with the exception of paying towards his domestic bills). As if the situation weren’t grim enough already, Keeler – not exactly the sharpest tool in the box – begins to spill the beans to a newspaper and casually mentions another sexual involvement with Soviet naval attaché Eugene Ivanov (Jeroen Krabbe)… and rumours of political espionage are more than rife! Those allegations would turn out to be the undoing of Profumo (then married to actress Valerie Hobson) because he can no longer deny his affair with Keeler. It would also be the undoing of Keeler herself, looked upon as a cheap prostitute by many and not helped by the fact that after her affair with Profumo she gets involved with black jazz singer Lucky Gordon (Leon Herbert) and black jazz promoter Johnny Edgecombe (Fine Young Cannibals frontman Roland Gift), though in this film version it is suggested that she met Gordon while she, Ward and a mutual friend were out one night on the search for dope. Thanks to the ensuing rivalry between Gordon and Edgecombe a shooting takes place outside Ward’s house, further adding fuel to the already blazing fire.
While Profumo sees no other option than to resign, things fare considerably worse for Ward who, after his fall from grace and losing his influential clientele, commits suicide. Keeler ends up in Holloway Prison and Mandy Rice-Davies seems the only one whose infamy gains her actual success: in the epilogue we read that after the scandal she moved to Israel where she opened several successful night clubs.
As a movie with such topic demands, there’s a fair bit of naked flesh on display though it could have done without hairy and pimply arses in close-up, thanks very much! Bridget Fonda was nominated ‘Best Supporting Actress’ at the Golden Globes 1989 although nowhere is she in as many scenes as Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (nowadays simply just Joanne Whalley) who is excellent in her portrayal of Keeler. Same can be said for John Hurt, though James Norton did an equally great job in the recent BBC adaptation. Apparently, the controversial nature of the story as well as the sexual content appealed to Harvey Weinstein who agreed to pay $2.35 million for the North American distribution rights. Oh yes? Do tell me more!
This Dual Format Edition comes with a host of Bonus Material, including the Official Music Video performed by Dusty Springfield and featuring the Pet Shop Boys, as well as ‘The Riveter’ – a short film from 1986 by SCANDAL director Michael Caton-Jones featuring a very young Ewan Bremner.