‘A Very British Affair’ tells the story of the brutal and messy divorce of Ian Campbell (Paul Bettany), the 11th Duke of Argyll, and Margaret Campbell (Claire Foy). When Ian and Margaret first get together, they are married to other people, though Margaret is in the process of divorcing her first husband. A whirlwind romance follows, and after they are legally free from their previous relationship, they immediately get married.
But the union proves to be tumultuous. In the 12 years they spend together, there are instances of violence, petty crime, adultery, and lies. The show also depicts that Ian has a massive drinking problem. If you are wondering if that was also the case with the real Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, this is what you need to know. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Was Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, an Alcoholic?
Most sources seem to agree the 11th Duke of Argyll was indeed an alcoholic. He also had addiction issues with gambling and prescription drugs. Some sources speculate, just like the show does, that the addictions led to violent tendencies, which were reportedly sometimes directed at his spouses.
As for the addictions themselves, Ian’s time in German captivity as a POW presumably had something to do with it. But this was a time when PTSD wasn’t officially recognized, so even if Ian had the disorder, he couldn’t get treated because he hadn’t been diagnosed to begin with. He was a captain in the 8th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was captured by the German forces in June 1940 during the Battle of France. He was forced to spend the next five years in German custody. His experience must have been traumatic.
In his portrayal, Bettany tried to convey the complexity of the character. “I think Ian displayed incredibly cruel and at times, violent behavior,” the ‘Margin Call’ actor said in a BBC press release. “I think Ian was damaged by many things, one of them being him held in a prisoner of war camp. His job was to absorb the punishment for prisoners that he had helped facilitate their escape. When he came back from the war, he was six stone and I don’t think he was in a particularly happy place. I don’t know what it was, whether he was suffering with some sort of undiagnosed PTSD but he was self-medicating with alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates.”
In a 2013 article, Lady Colin Campbell, Ian’s daughter-in-law, claimed that alcohol abuse was one of the reasons behind the dissolution of the marriage between the 11th Duke of Argyll and Margaret. “… the Duke had a serious drink and drug problem, and gradually his substance abuse, together with his never-ending need for money, eroded their (Ian and Margaret’s) unity,” she wrote, effectively confirming that her father-in-law had a drinking problem.