As the title suggests, A Very English Scandal is riddled with symptoms and symbols of the British Establishment. The three-part miniseries has dogs. It has monocle-sporting aristocrats and long lunches at the Carlton Club. It has grown men referring to each other affectionately as “bunny.” And, most prominently, it has the central storyline of an ambitious, Eton-educated, closeted politician conspiring to have his ex-lover murdered by a squad of amateur hit men, in an assassination plot so farcical it involves nipple tassels, whipped cream, and the sitcom Dad’s Army.
Truth is stranger, etc. etc. The real-life scandal of Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of Britain’s Liberal party, consumed the tabloids in the late 1970s, when he was charged and tried for attempting to arrange the murder of Norman Scott, an itinerant former model and stable hand with whom Thorpe had a sexual relationship. Scott survived the bungled late-night shooting in the middle of Exmoor (his Great Dane Rinka, sadly, didn’t, which led to popular jokes about “the dog in the fog”). And the two eventually faced off in court, during which time the U.K. newspapers dissected every salacious detail of Scott’s testimony.
A Very English Scandal, whose three episodes are released on Amazon Friday, stars the inimitable Hugh Grant as Thorpe, in the first significant television role of the actor’s career. In the series, Thorpe is already established as a Liberal politician when he meets Scott (SPECTRE and London Spy’s Ben Whishaw) in 1961. From the beginning the relationship between the two is based on an imbalance of power, which Thorpe fully exploits, both emotionally and sexually. He pays for Scott to live in a dingy studio, and writes him letters in which he refers to them both as “bunnies”—a reference to how Scott looked like a frightened rabbit on their first night together.