The year was 1989 and the British film was Scandal starring John Hurt (Stephen Ward) and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (Christine Keeler). It opened in movie theaters on the international market in March of that year. The film screened out-of-competition at the Cannes film festival in May. It had controversy following its’ release. It was fictionally based on the infamous 1963 British Profumo affair and a somewhat graphic orgy scene in the film. To get an “R” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the director Michael Canton-Jones cut several nude scenes.
I followed the syndicated TV show Siskel & Ebert: At The Movies. They gave Scandal positive reviews with their signature Two Thumbs Up routine. I went to see it. The film ran in 371 U.S. movie theaters and according to Box Office Mojo it made a domestic total of $8,800,000.
The film begins in London 1959 and the opening sequences are shot in black and white cinematography. Frank Sinatra sings the song Witchcraft on the soundtrack. It beautifully captures the era of innocence that would end through the change of moral values of that time period. Dr. Stephen Ward walks across the street and stops to look at beautiful young British girls on the verge of womanhood. They are his prey that would thrust him into the elite society of British government officials and dignitaries.
A showgirl named Christine Keeler catches his eye while she performs at a nightclub. Thus begins a relationship that is at the center of the film. The question is were they just friends or were they lovers? Was he her pimp and she his prostitute? How much money did he give her and how much did she get? It is never fully explained. He does however buy an apartment flat for Christine and drives her to parties where she is dangled in front of government officials. She meets important men including a Russian named Eugene Ivanov (Jeroen Krabbe) and British cabinet member John Profumo (Sir Ian McKellen).
In real life, the controversy surrounded Christine and the Russian. Her role was to get information from Britain’s Profumo and give it to the Russians during the height of the Cold War. In the film, there is no such storyline. Christine only jumps in bed with both men and did they pay her to sleep with them? It’s all about imagined prostitution and Britain’s highest paid officials. Christine is told what to do by Stephen and he becomes a teacher to her student. After all she is only eighteen years old with the body of a goddess. He practically guides her through her first sexual orgy among the rich and decadent. It’s all so inviting and fun.
Britain’s conservative government crumbled after the actual Profumo affair in 1964. In the film, Christine rebels and hangs out with several black men. An argument ensues and someone pulls out a pistol. Gunshots are fired and the British newspapers pick it up. The police investigate and everything begins to crumble. Dr. Stephen Ward becomes the patsy and is charged with harboring high-class prostitutes. Everyone deserts him including his close friends. Eugene Ivanov returns to Russia and John Profumo resigns. There is a public trial and Christine desperately holds close her friendship with Stephen. He meets a tragic end in suicide and she is found guilty of perjury.
There is a moment in the film that is captured brilliantly. Dr. Stephen Ward is again walking on the street and he sees a beautiful British girl pass by. Then he comes face to face with a British officer. It marks the end of his connection with the rich and powerful through young beautiful women. It also marks the beginning of a new era in British government and how the Profumo affair changed it all in the 1960’s.