Even more so than the Americans, the British seem way to vulnerable to sexual scandals. Sex is essential for producing heirs, but the preservation of appearances seems to be far more crucial. (Hugh Grant's recent scrape on Sunset Boulevard was reported with gravity and disgust by British rags and with sympathy and affection by the U.S. press.) To me, the Profumo scandal of 1963 has always seemed like much ado about nothing. It certainly didn't deserve to lead to suicide, betrayal, exile, social ostracism and political disgrace. The centerpiece of the scandal was an artistic, name-dropping, osteopath named Dr. Stephen Ward, sensitively portrayed in 1989's "Scandal" by John Hurt. Ward liked to surround himself with "good time girls" (prostitutes is too strong a word) and never seemed to get laid himself. The best that Ward could hope for was to increase his sphere of influence by encouraging his protégés and then gossiping with them afterwards about their liaisons with potential dukes and lords.
One hot, Saturday night on July 8, 1961, Mr. and Mrs. John Profumo attended a party at the Cliveden estate of Lord and Lady Astor where they met Ward, Keeler and the late Eugene "Honey Bear" Ivanov, a Soviet attaché. A big mystery in the scandal is why Christine Keeler was worth (as she claims) even a five night stand when Mrs. Profumo was the beautiful and elegant Valerie Hobson. Hobson, the star of such classics as "Kind Hearts and Coronets", had given up a long, successful film career to marry Profumo in 1954, and she remained loyal to him before, during and after the scandal. "Scandal" is mostly John Hurt's film, although Joanne Whalley is quite good as Christine Keeler. As Mandy Rice-Davies, the young Bridget Fonda is delightfully appealing and it's a shame that her subsequent onscreen roles haven't provided her with much of a chance to fulfill her early promise. Sir Ian McKellen isn't given a whole lot to say or do with the sketchy role of Profumo.
The film solicits intense sympathy for Keeler and Ward and largely succeeds, thanks to Hurt and Whalley. Director Michael ("This Boy's Life") Caton-Jones films the first half of the picture like a comedy, especially in one hilarious sequence where Mandy and Christine clearly fake a lesbian romp to tease their titled male pick-up for the night. All the childish games appear to be great fun, which they probably were while they lasted. Even in 1963, the notion of a War Minister sharing military secrets with a five-night stand must have seemed fantastic to anyone but a Big Mouth with a vivid imagination like Stephen Ward. But there's no compassionate grownup to protect these adult youngsters from hurting themselves and hurt themselves they did, sometimes fatally. If you're looking for something different on this summer's video shelves, "Scandal;" is a great bet and compulsively rewatchable: I've seen it six times!
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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