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The makers of Anatomy of a Scandal didn’t bring the sexual violence memo to the big screen

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Iin the Netflix drama Anatomy of a Scandal, a Tory MP, James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend), confesses to his wife Sophie (Sienna Miller) that he was having an affair with a parliamentary assistant and that the story will soon hit the tabloids. Whitehouse, a haughty ex-state student with a house in Belgravia, two perfect children and a live-in nanny, believes his indiscretion is just a hiccup in his political ascent. A place in Cabinet after the next reshuffle is all but certain, not least because the Prime Minister is an old pal from his days at Oxford, where they were both members of a Bullingdon-like club called the Libertines.

But then the police show up as Whitehouse leaves the House of Commons and tell him that the assistant in question has accused Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott) of rape. In a moment of slow-motion surrealism that has caused widespread hilarity on social media, we see Whitehouse being lifted into the air and thrown backwards as if he’d been literally punched in the stomach. The trauma, it seems, is all his.

Recently we have seen a handful of television dramas that deal with the issue of sexual violence and consent. In the 2020s i can destroy you, author and actress Michaela Cole offered a nuanced portrait of a rape in which the victim, Arabella, pieced together the events of the night before after her drink was spiked. At Netflix UnbelievableIn a powerful and thoughtful study of “good” vs. “bad” victims, we met Kaitlyn Devers Marie, who gives a convoluted account of her assault by a serial rapist, which prompted cops to pressure her to retract her testimony.

More recently four lives, about the crimes of real-life serial killer Stephen Port, told the stories of the men Port raped and killed and their families’ experiences as they fought against police complacency; While Port, played by Stephen Merchant, has appeared on screen, his character and motivations have remained deliberately opaque.

Such depictions are important as they reflect a broader shift in the way society is beginning to view sexual assault and trauma. Until recently, male brutality and female passivity on television were the norm and rape was merely a means of creating tension or thrills. But now we see writers and directors approach sexual violence with seriousness and sensitivity, focusing less on perpetrators and investigators and more on the stories of victims and how they are treated in a flawed justice system.

Ah, the makers of Anatomy of a Scandal didn’t get the memo. The Series – which is based on a novel by Sarah Vaughan and is produced by David E Kelley, whose credits include Big little lies and The doom – is less interested in the impact on the victim than in a man’s reputational damage and the consequences for his family and party. Lurking on the sidelines is Joshua McGuire’s Malcolm Tucker-esque spin doctor, who initially deters the looming scandal with a shrug: “Nowadays, sex doesn’t have to kill a career,” he tells Whitehouse. “You might even gain some fans among the older male voters.” Later, when the rape allegation comes to light, he changes his mind and urges the Prime Minister to distance himself from Whitehouse: “If he fully commits to MeToo’d, he will it’s starting to make your loyalty seem unwise,” he warns.

In fairness, the series raises some important questions, including: Why does Sophie go to bed with her shoes on? Are the Gardens of Belgravia really that tiny? And why doesn’t the House of Commons look like the House of Commons at all? As a matter of fact, Anatomy of a Scandal has many issues, from the awkward dialogues and drunken camera angles to the continued slow-motion sequences where characters suddenly fall through floors or are picked up and thrown into a scene that happened 20 years earlier. Meanwhile, the controversial sexual encounter, which takes place in a House of Commons elevator, is played and repeated, often in slow motion, and styled like the world’s worst pop video.

But it’s the lack of victim perspective that irks most. We learn nothing about Olivia’s character or her life outside of her relationship with Whitehouse, or indeed the fallout from the attack and the court case. Story-wise, she remains at the bottom of the pecking order; We end up knowing more about the prosecutor’s best friend than we do about Olivia. And as she cross-examines her version of events, her testimony is filtered through the reactions of Sophie, seated on the gallery.

Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller in Netflix drama Anatomy of a Scandal

(Ana Cristina Blumenkron/Netflix)

Ultimately, this is not just the story of a political scandal, but the story of an unfairly treated woman. Sophie, played by Miller with a seething anger, has chosen to stand by her husband despite suspecting that her husband has been sparing with the truth at best. At home, she watches as he encourages her kids to sing “Whitehouses always come out on top!” or cheat on Monopoly (he’s got a card to get out of jail in his wallet—subtle, isn’t it?), and begins like that , it reconsider their partnership. She realizes that his life was shaped by immense privileges, demands and never having said “no”.

Of course, not all TV dramas have to offer a teachable moment, and perhaps we shouldn’t take too seriously a series that expresses human emotions by literally punching its characters in the stomach. Nonetheless, in a culture where the actions of powerful men are increasingly scrutinized and the voices of victims are more likely to be heard, Olivia’s invisibility feels like a criminal oversight.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/anatomy-of-a-scandal-netflix-rape-victim-b2062265.html The makers of Anatomy of a Scandal didn’t bring the sexual violence memo to the big screen

JOE HERNANDEZ

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