A Very British Scandal is back for season 2 and it’s finally made its way to the US after its Christmas release on BBC. This season, the three-episode series follows the case of Argyll v. Argyll, which flooded the British tabloids in the 60s as the couple entered a nasty divorce battle. Multiple claims of infidelity, the infamous “Headless Man” photograph, and a woman who refused to back down made this case one for the ages.
Ian Campbell, played by Paul Bettany, and Margaret Campbell, played by Claire Foy, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were a match made in narcissistic heaven. An absolutely toxic pairing from their tumultuous, adulterous start all the way to their vitriolic end, this was destined to fail from the moment they met on that train. Foy and Bettany grasp the venom of each of their characters flawlessly. Bettany dances the line of a shameful husband wanting to do better and terrifying, abusive, gaslighting drunk, while Foy wears Margaret’s cold, aloof suit of armor almost proudly as we watch their marriage crumble from the day it began.
The one aspect of this series that stood out the most to me was the portrayal of Margaret. Obviously, back in the 60s, she was vilified for being a woman accused of infidelity, something a man could get away with scot-free. Writer Sarah Phelps did a marvelous job toeing the line between giving Margaret her fair trial in the eyes of viewers minus that sexist cloud looming overhead without making her out to be a hero.
While the way the Duchess of Argyll was treated within the media was unfair and wholly hypocritical, she was no martyr. She was no pioneer for women nor was she a feminist icon, she was a narcissist just as much as her husband was, just one who knew how to carry herself better. The series did well to keep Margaret true to her own misdeeds, infidelity, and flaws without giving the Duke the upper hand he was given by default in the event’s own time.
For all its great moments, however, the series did, unfortunately, need to gloss over many aspects of this hellscape of partnership to fit all 16 years of it within its time constraint, making it seem somewhat rushed and watered down, but it’s still very concise and gives the most pertinent of information. So, if you’re after a deep dive into this scandal, this may not satiate your appetite, but it certainly highlights the nastiest bits for those with a more meandering curiosity. And, the performances truly make it worth the watch.
A Very British Scandal premieres on Prime Video Friday, April 22.