A gripping mini-series centres on the themes of consent, privilege and contradictions in the legal system
“Men will be men.”
here is no other way to start this piece than to target the age-old excuse thrown around by men like James Whitehouse, men who know they can get away with anything; and men like Tom Southern.
The perpetrators of some of the worst crimes - everything from rape to murder - these men are shown as partners in the obstruction of justice in the Anatomy of a Scandal, a Netflix mini-series directed by SJ Clarkson. They are also shown using evidence against one another and covering it under the façade of friendship in the hair-raising thriller based on a novel by Sarah Vaughan.
The story echoes back in the perspicacious voice of Freda Adler, a former president of the American Society of Criminology, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.”
Naomi Scott plays Olivia Lytton, a researcher on Whitehouse’s team, who later fornicates with him. A young bluestocking well on her way to establishing her career, Lytton is then exploited in an unexpected turn of events. The relationship ends and has dire consequences for Lytton who claims that she was being taken advantage of by the Tory MP Whitehouse. She files a complaint in court.
“What could be bad on this wonderful day?”
Apparently, the release to the press of an extramarital affair involving Sophie Whitehouse’s husband is followed by a lawsuit accusing him of rape.
Sophie, portrayed by Sienna Miller, is a perfect mother, willing to turn a blind eye to the crimes of her husband so that her two children from her twelve years of marriage can live a normal life.
The continuous unravelling of history, however, finally forces her to realise how her picture-perfect husband is a liar who has been feeding her twisted facts and empty promises. The internal battle - between denial and acceptance - is the one she has been unwilling to wage.
This is only the start of a series of crimes James is revealed to have committed. It is revealed that Whitehouse was an accomplice to such heinous acts and had been actively enabling abusers since his days in university. Using carefully crafted lies, he had also forced others to enable him. The pattern is crystal clear.
Debauchery was common among the make-belief Libertines at Oxford, known in real life as the Bullingdon Club. Bonds between the members of this all-boys club meant that nothing that happened there left the room.
There is a fairly accurate depiction of the wealth disparity and power distribution in the British society where the rich get to walk free for crimes they commit and victims are called out for building false narratives to cast aspersions on the reputable and honourable people with power.
Men are set up for failure from the beginning; education of the highest quality and morals of the lowest.
“He has always been rather confident I suppose. Unashamedly lying at Cluedo and cheating at monopoly. Insisting on changing the rules.”
The series reflects upon the past; James’s days at university and his, an indisputable painting of the extravagant, lavish and over-privileged lifestyle of the men who make it to the high seats in society.
Men are set up for failure from the beginning; education of the highest quality and morals of the lowest. Hence it is not some individuals but an elite system that is responsible for the dilemmas of the society.
Prosecution lawyer, Kate Woodcroft formerly known as Holly Berry at Oxford, takes up the case as payback for her fair share of trauma inflicted by Oxford. The defence lawyer, Angela Regan, fights the case half-heartedly worried for the future of the victims. Their narratives differ from a yes to no and drift from yes to yes but not here.
In the world shown in the Anatomy of a Scandal, consent is still one of the least understood concepts. After the war for equal rights, equal democratic representation and equal salaries came the question of morals, ethics and consent. How is consent defined?
Sophie described it best a few years ago, “Blurriness of consent. Men were guilty of selfish exuberance, and we were guilty of failure to communicate.”
However facing, the lawyers, Olivia is still unable to plead her case based on mere words. An abstract concept is often hard to put into veracious words and to determine the limits of actions based on it; intangible accounts in cases of assault. Court cases are based on evidence and when there is just the victim’s word against theirs, the influential and puissant easily get the no-jail card.
“The Whitehouses always come out on the top.”
The psychological thriller presents the distressing reality of cases such as Olivia’s where connections are the key source of the verdict one will receive. Sadly, the circumstances are not limited to Britain; similar cases are to be found in all cultures and states. The powerful speak and the weak listen. The series leaves room for another trial against Tom and James - for an equally horrifying crime: murder.
The writer is an undergraduate student of psychology at FC College