A Very British Scandal first-look images have landed and Claire Foy looks spectacular as ever as the Duchess of Argyll, but what is the scandal that turned a simple divorce into a media frenzy?
Claire Foy fans will no doubt still be a little sad not to see her in The Crown season 5, with the talented actor’s portrayal of the monarch during the Queen's early reign in seasons 1-2 making her a household name. Having also played Queen Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall, it seems that Claire’s flair for bringing historical figures to life is about to take another, more modern direction. The BBC has now shared a glimpse of Claire in A Very British Scandal as the iconic Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll.
The show follows on from the first series, then titled A Very English Scandal, which saw Hugh Grant as politician Jeremy Thorpe being vilified for his relationship with model Norman Josiffe (James Bond star Ben Wishaw). This time the show is set to delve into the salacious divorce and public shaming of the Duchess.
But what will A Very British Scandal be about, who was the Duchess of Argyll and how many episodes will there be?
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What will A Very British Scandal be about?
A Very British Scandal will focus on the iconic Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll and her infamous divorce case which still resonates to this day. Starring Claire Foy opposite Marvel film icon Paul Bettany as her second husband, Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll. Wealthy socialite Margaret was the daughter of a Scottish millionaire and had previously been married to American Charles Sweeny.
However, when her and the Duke's marriage began to fall apart and he suspected of her infidelity, he invaded her privacy and made public deeply intimate photos of his wife in a high profile divorce case.
First-look images released for #AVeryBritishScandal and further cast members announced, including Julia Davis as Maureen, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava.Coming soon to @BBCOne and @BBCiPlayerOctober 25, 2021
Refusing to back away into the shadows, the Duchess was betrayed by her friends and social circle and was publicly humiliated as the photographs, along with further astonishing claims about her number of lovers sought, became well known.
Just like A Very English Scandal, which saw Hugh Grant as politician Jeremy Thorpe whose relationship with a male model lead to his public disgrace, A Very British Scandal is set to present a new perspective and a more modern version of historic events. It will explore the attitudes towards women at the time and shine a light on this remarkable woman who remained steadfast as the world vilified her.
The brilliant Sarah Phelps who also wrote the first series opened up to the BBC (opens in new tab) about the project, revealing just why she was so drawn to tell the Duchess of Argyll’s story for a modern audience.
“Writing the story of Margaret’s life and the events leading up to and including her divorce from the Duke has been a passion project of mine since 1993 when I first heard her name and started learning about her,” Sarah explained. “I felt very strongly that she’d been punished for being a woman, for being visible, for refusing to back down, be a good girl and go quietly. This drama is my tribute to her.”
Claire Foy will be bringing the Duchess of Argyll to life in A Very British Scandal and she shared her excitement at getting to do this historic woman justice.
“I’m so excited to work with Anne [Sewitsky, director], Sarah [Phelps] and Paul [Bettany] on this extraordinary project, and to explore through this story, how often shame, judgement and controversy surrounds a woman's sexuality,” she said.
Claire Foy will be joined in the A Very British Scandal cast by not only Paul Bettany, but Gavin & Stacey’s Julia Davis as Maureen, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. Acting in as-yet-unconfirmed roles will also be Phoebe Nicholls (Fortitude), Sophie Ward (The Moonstone), Miles Jupp (The Durrells) and Richard McCabe (Poldark), amongst many others.
What was the Duchess of Argyll Scandal?
Whilst the Duchess of Argyll’s name alone might not immediately ring any bells, the scandalous twists and turns of her divorce case and the heart-breaking way her privacy was invaded is something that many modern viewers could be able to relate to. The Duchess, born Margaret Whigham, married Ian Campbell, Duke of Argyll in 1951, and it was the couple’s divorce trial that has gone down in history.
In 1963 the Duke initiated divorce proceedings after discovering a selection of nude polaroid pictures of his wife upon breaking into a locked cupboard whilst she was away from home. If that wasn’t already shocking enough, one of these featured Margaret having sex with a man whose identity remained hidden after his head was cropped out of the frame. The Duchess’ own identity was betrayed by her signature fashion item—an exquisite three-string pearl necklace—which was the only item she wore in the intimate photographs.
After the Duke publicly revealed news of the private pictures, no one in their social circles was left in the dark about what had gone on. Meanwhile, the Duchess of Argyll became the victim of a misogynistic media frenzy and was even nicknamed the ‘Dirty Duchess’.
If that wasn’t already horrific enough, the divorce proceedings saw not only the pictures presented to the court, but the Duke also provided a list of up to 88 men he accused of having been intimate with his wife. The search to track down the mysterious headless man also dominated proceedings and headlines, but Margaret remained steadfast and never revealed his identity.
Speculation named everyone from Winston Churchill’s son-in-law Duncan Sandys, who was also the UK minister of Defence, to Hollywood star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The truth never did come out and the Duchess of Argyll scandal captured people’s imaginations on both sides of the Pond.
Though the demonization of Margaret continued with the judge in her divorce case reportedly dubbing her a “completely promiscuous woman”, adding that whilst some of his contemporaries might view her as “enlightened” for embracing sexual freedom, he saw her as “wholly immoral”.
How many episodes of A Very British Scandal
Just like the first series, A Very British Scandal will consist of three episodes, telling the tale of Margaret’s dramatic public shaming across three hours overall. This certainly allows viewers to get an in-depth understanding of the circumstances surrounding the infamous divorce case and how Margaret’s romantic life sparked one of the biggest media frenzies of the time.
How to watch A Very British Scandal
A Very British Scandal is reportedly set to air in the UK later this year, though a final release date for Claire Foy’s new drama has sadly not yet been confirmed. As with the first series of the hit BBC show, then titled A Very English Scandal, this heartbreaking and intriguing tale of the Duchess of Argyll is expected to air on BBC One. And if you’ve yet to catch-up on the first compelling series starring Hollywood heart-throb and many people’s favorite fictional Prime Minister, Hugh Grant, then all three episodes are available to watch via BBC iPlayer.
And for those living in the US who can’t wait to enjoy all the twists and turns of the infamous divorce cast, A Very British Scandal will reportedly be landing on Amazon Prime Video (opens in new tab) sometime in 2022, where A Very English Scandal (opens in new tab) is already ready and waiting.
An annual Amazon Prime membership is $119 plus taxes, while a monthly Amazon Prime membership is $12.99 a month plus taxes. Or, you can get a 30-day Amazon Prime free trial (opens in new tab) and binge-watch to your heart's content.
But whilst you wait for A Very British Scandal to land and Claire Foy’s extraordinary acting to shine as the Duchess of Argyll, there’s plenty of time to check out fellow historical show Ridley Road or even explore the dark side of a tight-knit community in The Long Call.
Will you be giving A Very British Scandal a watch this year?
Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with six years of experience working in digital publishing. Her specialist areas including literature, the British Royal Family and knowing all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and every streaming service out there. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, you can find Emma cooking and watching yet more crime dramas.