‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ Review: A British Legal Drama That Feels a Bit Cold

'Anatomy of a Scandal' Review: A British Legal Drama That Feels A Bit Cold

Recently, it appears that Netflix production has a tendency to lean toward the shady and scandalous. Shows like Tiger King, and The Tinder Swindler, are able to tap into a vein of curiosity that makes them almost impossible to stop watching. Anatomy of a Scandal drops right in the middle of it all. The show tackles some very hot and trendy topics and does it by using all the tropes coming from soap operas and other multiple places. Is it good? Maybe not. But yes, it is the perfect show for binge-watching. 

Anatomy of a Scandal is based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Vaughan. The miniseries consists of only six episodes and tells the story of the Whitehouse family. When the affair with one of his coworkers comes to light, James Whitehouse, minister of the English Parliament, finds himself in the middle of a scandal. And later, it gets worse when he is accused of rape, destroying his career and throwing his family into a media and family disaster. 

The show is being handled by David E. Kelly, who, at this point in his career, needs no introduction. The legendary producer has created some of the most popular legal shows on television, and this time he has made himself a space on British television, and the result is a concoction of everything he has ever done. There’s a bit of legal drama, a ton of family issues, mental health issues, and, of course, the addition of the MeToo movement into the mix makes the show even more current with today’s audiences. 

'Anatomy of a Scandal' Review: A British Legal Drama That Feels A Bit Cold

There’s an issue, though. While the show wants to tackle these serious topics upfront and tries to have a conversation about it by making everything really ambiguous. Thanks to the in-court scenario, the characters might be some of the least sympathetic on television right now.

It is a very strange case, because the show is filled with excellent actors, all of them have done amazing work in other shows and movies, but here, they feel very robotic and lifeless. They feel artificial to the core. The logic tells us that the blame then falls on the material the actors are working with. The characters talk and act as fake versions of characters involved in this situation, and not as real people. It is a strange distinction, but it is vital because, without this feeling that we are seeing real people on the screen, the drama scales down considerably. 

It could be better said that instead of reenacting a situation like this, the show feels like you are reading a headline in a newspaper about it. Of course, for people directly affected by situations like this, it can be triggering, but the effect might not go beyond them, which is a shame. 

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Without the character connection, then the only thing that is left is the sordid nature of the situation depicted in the show. It is like watching one of those gossip shows. This take on the material doesn’t make for an amazing show, but it really makes the show watchable. You might find yourself watching all six episodes in a row without realizing it, and just for that, the show is successful in what it is trying to do. 

Rupert Friend does an incredible job as the charismatic and dubious James Whitehouse. You are never really sure if he is what he says he is, or if he is what we fear he is. It is a thankless role; no one will ever see the character in a good light, even if what is said about him is a lie. It doesn’t matter though Friend does it well.

Sienna Miller, is the other standout in the show. She receives most of the punishment and the consequences of her husband’s affair throughout the show. Miller has always been known for being an amazingly beautiful woman. That is true here as well, but it must be said that she’s also a very underrated actress. More should be said about how she displays emotions in such a quick and effective way.

S.J. Clarkson directs all the episodes, and she does a great job. Clarkson is a veteran director, having worked on several shows across many platforms and franchises. Her direction here is precise, and she manages to give a bit of a surreal feel to the whole situation, but she can also go into the over-dramatic and the cheese quite fast. Nonetheless, no one can argue that Anatomy is a bad show.

This is very fine entertainment. Audiences will eat it up in a day, that is for sure. Let’s just hope that Netflix doesn’t lean on this kind of content more than it has to. 

SCORE: 7/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.