The Unbelievable True Story Behind A Very English Scandal

BBC
BBC

A Very English Scandal announces what it’s about right in the title. The three-episode BBC drama, which premieres on Amazon on June 29, is indeed English to its core. But what's in it for American viewers? They probably don’t know the true story that inspired the show, but they’d do well to find out.

Set in part during the late 1960s, just after homosexuality had been decriminalized in the UK but long before it would become widely accepted, the show dramatizes the real-life story of politician Jeremy Thorpe, who, in 1979, became the first member of parliament (MP) to stand trial on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder. The target was Norman Scott, Thorpe's supposed former male lover. A Very English Scandal was written by Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who) and directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), with Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw playing Thorpe and Scott, respectively.

It’s hard to resist the delicious scenery chewing of both Grant and Whishaw in the trailer (“I was rude, I was vile, I was queer, I was myself,” Whishaw’s Scott says with panache), but the facts are even more outrageous. Though Thorpe was eventually acquitted, the events depicted in A Very English Scandal ended his political career.

RISE TO POWER

As the MP for North Devon from 1959 to 1979, Thorpe helped the Liberal party gain standing during his tenure and accumulated considerable power. In 1967, at the age of 37, he became the youngest leader of any British political party in a century—but the events that would lead to Thorpe's downfall began several years before he was elected to this position.

The controversy surrounding Thorpe resulted from Scott’s assertions that the two had an intimate relationship between 1961 and 1964. According to Scott, their affair began shortly after the stable boy-turned-aspiring model, who had a history of severe depression, was released from a psychiatric hospital following a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt. Though rumors swirled about the politician's sexual liaisons, Thorpe was able to use his influence to keep the affair mostly under wraps for more than a decade. But the game unraveled once Thorpe and his associates began to see the unpredictable Scott—whom the political leader is said to have nicknamed "Bunnies"—as a threat.

Ex leader of the Liberal party and ex MP, Jeremy Thorpe arriving at the Old Bailey where he is being tried on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder. In the background are gay rights supporters who object to the way homosexuality has been treated
Jeremy Thorpe arrives at the Old Bailey, where he was being tried on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder, while gay rights supporters protest in the background.
Aubrey Hart, Getty Images

While Thorpe always denied the claims, according to a biography by author Michael Bloch, published in 2014, the politician was bisexual and relished illicit sex for both “the immediate excitement, and the later thrill of being able to extricate himself from any potential scandal.” The book also describes Thorpe as an opportunist who saw himself as above the normal rules.

"THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH"

Attempts to silence Scott with money were apparently rebuffed, and the full story came to light in 1975, when Andrew Newton—an airplane pilot who had reportedly been hired to kill Scott—shot Scott’s Great Dane, Rinka, in what was assumed to be a hit-gone-wrong. The story was front page news, and though Thorpe denied that any intimate relationship existed, he was forced to step down as party leader. He eventually faced trial at the Old Bailey court in London, with the prosecution arguing that he had hired Newton to shoot his ex-lover. The story dominated tabloids and became known as “the greatest show on Earth.”

Thorpe lost his Parliamentary seat on May 3, 1979. Just five days later, his trial began; on June 22, 1979, Thorpe was acquitted of all charges. Marion Stein, Thorpe’s second wife—who, as played by Monica Dolan, is seen in A Very English Scandal confronting her husband with the affair and his desires for men—nursed him through his battle with Parkinson's disease until her own death in March 2014. She stood by him even as the foundation of their marriage and his career were rocked. Thorpe died less than a year later, on December 4, 2014 at the age of 85.

Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw star in 'A Very English Scandal' (2018)
Amazon

But the craziest twist of all is that British authorities may not have still entirely figured out the facts of the case. In 2014, a BBC investigative documentary team spoke with firearms collector Dennis Meighan, who admitted that he had been offered money to kill Scott by a man who "represented a Mr. Big in the Liberal Party." Though Meighan did provide the gun that eventually killed Scott's beloved Great Dane, he passed the job onto Newton, who was an old school friend. Newton ended up spending two years in jail for shooting Scott's dog, but Meighan—who confessed his part in the crime to the police—was never called to testify. Instead, police handed him a prepared statement to sign.

"I read the statement, which did me no end of favors, but it did Jeremy Thorpe no end of favors as well, because it left him completely out of it," Meighan said. "So I thought, 'Well, I've got to sign this.' It just virtually left everything out that was incriminating, but at the same time everything I said about the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe, etc., was left out as well."

JUSTICE INTERRUPTED

Scott, who is still alive, maintains his story that the gunman tried to take him down after his dog, but the gun jammed. Parts of the new series, he told the Mirror, still make him cry. “I was so upset by the shooting of Rinka that I tried to give her the kiss of life,” he said. “I was covered in her blood.”

Norman Scott makes his way to court at the Old Bailey in London, during the trial of former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, 21st May 1979. Scott has accused Thorpe and three other men of conspiracy to murder him
Norman Scott makes his way to court at the Old Bailey in London, during the trial of Jeremy Thorpe on May 21, 1979.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Meighan's admission shed new light on the crime, and possible conspiracy, no further action was taken as police believed that Newton was dead. But earlier this month, a police inquiry found that Newton, who now goes by the name Hann Redwin, is still very much alive. However, authorities ultimately decided not to reopen the investigation, stating that Newton, a.k.a. Redwin, had no additional information to offer. According to a police statement:

“Having confirmed his status and whereabouts, officers from Gwent Police spoke to Mr. Redwin who is unable to provide any additional evidence to that which has already been obtained in the original inquiry.

“As Mr. Redwin’s evidence has already been considered by the CPS prior to this matter being closed, Gwent Police is satisfied that there is no basis to re-refer the matter to the CPS and the investigation remains closed.”

Though many questions still remain, given how much time has passed and that many of the key players are no longer with us, it seems that the new miniseries is the closest we may get to closure.

A Very English Scandal premieres on Amazon on June 29, 2018.

10 Unforgettable Facts About The Notebook On Its 15th Anniversary

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
New Line Cinema

In 1996, Nicholas Sparks published his first book, The Notebook. He would go on to write several more romance novels, many of which would be adapted into films. But 2004’s film adaption of The Notebook remains the highest-grossing Sparks adaptation, making $115 million worldwide against a $25 million budget. It was Rachel McAdams's breakout lead role (it was released just a few months after Mean Girls); it solidified Ryan Gosling as a “hey girl” heartthrob; and it swept all eight categories it was nominated for at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, winning in categories like Choice Movie Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock.

The book and movie follow a young couple named Noah (Gosling) and Allie (Adams) in 1940s North Carolina (the movie was filmed in South Carolina). Despite some obstacles, the couple fall in love, marry, and spend the next 60 years together. In present day, it’s revealed that Allie, now an old woman (played by Gena Rowlands), has Alzheimer’s, and her doting husband (James Garner, as an elderly Noah) helps her remember their storied past. In 2003, Sparks published a loose sequel called The Wedding, featuring the characters Allie and Noah. Here are 10 facts about the beloved romance, which arrived in theaters 15 years ago today.

1. It was based on a true story.

Nicholas Sparks’s book was based on his then-wife Cathy's grandparents, who spent more than 60 years together. Cathy was close to her grandparents, and visited them frequently. The grandparents were too ill to attend their wedding, in 1989, so the newly-married couple brought the wedding to them. They dressed up in their wedding clothes and surprised them at their house. Cathy's grandparents told the Sparks how they met and fell in love, decades ago.

“But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other,” Sparks wrote on his website. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they’d given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever.”

Unfortunately for Nicholas and Cathy, their love didn’t last forever—they divorced in 2015

2. Nicholas Sparks thinks the book was successful because it was relatable.


Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

“It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a ‘Noah and Allie’ in their own life,” Sparks wrote on his website. He also said the book was short enough (224 pages) for people to read it quickly. “I think that readers also appreciate that the novel didn’t include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what’s found in many other novels,” he said. “These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.”

3. The screenwriter had to work hard to make the characters seem real.

The Notebook screenwriter Jeremy Leven had the daunting task of adapting Sparks's book into a script. “The problem with the book is that it’s melodramatic and sweet, and you have to find a way to appeal to an audience that is apprehensive about yet another sweet movie,” Leven told The Harvard Crimson. “So you have to give it an edge, make it real, and make the choices the characters face real.” That “edge” probably includes the love scene in the rain.

4. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling didn't get along—at first.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Even though they played lovers in the movie and then began dating in real life, the couple clashed during production. Director Nick Cassavetes told MTV a story about an incident when Gosling and McAdams weren’t getting along on the set one day: “Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, ‘Nick come here,’” Cassavetes shared. “And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other ... The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.”

5. McAdams and Gosling's on-screen chemistry probably wasn't real.

“[Our later relationship] certainly wasn’t something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience,” McAdams said, “which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each other.” She said it was attributed to the acting. “As an actor you don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to feel anything. Just imagine it.”

6. Jessica Biel was bummed she didn't get to play Allie.


Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Unlike Gosling, McAdams had to audition for the role of Allie, and so did Jessica Biel. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood,” Biel told Elle. “That’s one that I wanted so badly. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”

7. McAdams felt a lot of pressure to deliver a great performance.

The actress told Film Monthly she knew she had to be good in the movie, because she had to carry it. “At first I put way too much pressure on myself and realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said. “I was just a ball of stress, and eventually the character kicked in where she’s sort of free-spirited, doesn’t care what people think, and chases down those things she wants.” She eventually found the right balance.

8. James Marsden thought the movie was going to be "schmaltzy."


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

James Marsden played Allie’s fiancé—and Noah’s rival—Lon Hammond Jr. The actor told Out Magazine how he tries not to make a bad movie, but they sometimes turn out that way. “Then there are some movies that I’ve been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge,” he said. “I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!”

9. Nick Cassavetes was the fourth choice to direct the movie.

New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Sparks's novel in 1995, before the book was even published. In 1998, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the film. Jim Sheridan was also interested, but he decided to direct In America instead. In 2001, The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye director Martin Campbel almost signed on, but in 2002 New Line brought Cassavetes aboard.

10. James Garner ruined his first take shooting with Gena Rowlands.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Nick Cassavetes—son of legendary director John Cassavetes—cast his mother, the great Gena Rowlands, as the elderly Allie. Garner recalled the first day he and Gena filmed together. “She's going to come out and I’m sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick say, ‘Okay, mom. Action.’ Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here’s a professional actress who’s one of the best ever, and she’s listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Alexander Skarsgård Could Have Played Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Marvel fans may have trouble imagining Thor played by anyone other than Chris Hemsworth, but apparently, Alexander Skarsgård was pretty darn close to getting the role. How close, you ask? He tried on the costume, held the hammer, and even filmed an audition in the garb.

In 2009—just a year after True Blood premiered—the actor told MTV that he met with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Thor director Kenneth Branagh about the part. “Yeah, I met with Kevin [Feige] a few times and the director,” he said. “There was definitely some truth in that, yeah.”

When the MTV interviewer said he thought the actor had the perfect look to bring Thor to life, Skarsgård simply replied, “So did I.”

But before you start to feel too sorry for Skarsgård, let's not forget the number of impressive roles the True Blood alum has landed. At the moment, he’s playing Perry Wright in HBO’s Big Little Lies, for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

As for the Thor role, Hemsworth went on to play the God of Thunder in multiple films, and although his future in the MCU is not certain after Avengers: Endgame, the Australian actor confirmed he’d love to keep playing the character.

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