Is A Very British Scandal Based on a True Story?

Image Credit: Alan Peebles/Amazon/BBC/Sony Pictures Television

Created by Sarah Phelps (‘EastEnders’), ‘A Very British Scandal’ is a three-part historical drama miniseries. It revolves around the marriage between Ian Campbell (Paul Bettany), 11th Duke of Argyll, and his third wife, Margaret Campbell (Claire Foy), Duchess of Argyll, and its eventual dissolution. During the messy divorce proceedings, the Argylls level accusations of infidelity, violence, substance abuse, and petty crimes against each other. The case garners the widespread interest of the press and turns into a massive scandal that threatens the very foundation of society.

The setting of ‘A Very British Scandal’ is Great Britain of the 1950s and 1960s. The show offers a candid exploration of the post-World War II United Kingdom, enunciating the issues that the women of the era might have been facing at the time. If that has made you wonder whether ‘A Very British Scandal’ is inspired by actual events, we got you covered.

Is A Very British Scandal a True Story?

Yes, ‘A Very British Scandal’ is based on a true story. However, these actual events have been dramatized to tell an engaging tale. The show was developed by Blueprint Pictures, the same production house that created the 2018 series ‘A Very English Scandal,’ which is about the 1976–1979 Jeremy Thorpe scandal. While the older show was made from John Preston’s 2016 namesake book, Phelps penned an original script for ‘A Very British Scandal.’

Image Credit: Alan Peebles/Amazon Prime Video

The 1963 Argyll v Argyll divorce case is particularly infamous for the media frenzy that took place around it. According to Phelps, the scandal and the press’ response to it underscored how rapidly things were changing at the time. In an interview with The New York Times, she reflected on how the press reacted to the details of the divorce, calling it “the birth of a different kind of journalism, and a way of writing about sex and scandal in a very, very prurient way.” Margaret Campbell was a female public figure, perhaps the first one in a long line of well-known women to endure a vicious dissection of their private lives at the hands of the press.Margaret was Ian’s third wife, and he was Margaret’s second husband. They married on March 22, 1951. The union itself didn’t produce any children though they both had children from previous relationships. Margaret and Ian’s marriage was reportedly tumultuous, and their divorce was downright bitter. Duke of Argyll claimed his wife of 12 years had been unfaithful to him and presented several Polaroid photos of Margaret — nude besides a three-strand pearl necklace and accompanied by several men —to the court. The presiding judge ultimately granted the divorce.

Image Credit: Alan Peebles/Amazon/BBC/Sony Pictures Television

Made in 2021, ‘A Very British Scandal’ understandably peers into the 1960s scandal through the perspective of the modern times, where revenge porn has become an epidemic. Speaking to The New York Times, Foy accepted that the person she portrays in the show was far from perfect but pointed out that she (Margaret) received similar treatment. “She lied and she cheated, and she did all sorts of really awful things,” ‘The Crown’ actor stated. “In her defense, they were also done to her,” she added.

Foy’s own experience in the entertainment industry helped her relate to Margaret’s character. She realized that even though Margaret had her faults, she was definitely not what the press eventually turned her into. Although ‘A Very British Scandal’ is based on something that happened about 60 years ago, its core narrative remains relevant even today.

In a BBC press release, series director Anne Sewitsky said that she was drawn to the project because “it was the craziness of the whole thing, the absurdity of what they [Margaret and Ian] did to each other and how far they went. There was lots of space to create strong emotional characters between two people who are out to kill each other or love each other.” Clearly, ‘A Very British Scandal’ is a dramatized interpretation of the real-life 1963 Argyll v Argyll divorce case.

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