Claire Foy faces a completely different kingdom

“People said terrible things and said terrible things about him in court and terrible names. She has faith in her choices and behavior and understands what happened in their marriage so she’s absolutely not going to take it all on herself.”

Such is the poison in the exchange between the Duke and Duchess, it almost echoes the 1962 Edward Albee drama (and the 1966 Mike Nichols film) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, about the breakdown of a marriage for one night. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Foy reveals that Albee’s play is a creative touchstone.

Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll whose private life is aired in court.

Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll whose private life is aired in court.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a real thing for us in the dynamic of their relationship and how we can, not try and emulate it at all, but try and make interesting choices like they did in the play,” said Foy. “Maybe with a different actor [you would have to take it more seriously], but, sadly, Paul and I are really silly people. We both love to laugh, and we also want to enjoy our work.

“There was limited time to shoot everything, there was never enough time, never enough money, classic things like that, but we really enjoyed each other’s company. I’m so grateful we were able to have fun and make friends while we were making it because it means it’s always exciting to come to work.”

The Duchess of Argyll was by no means the first celebrity, though when the list of her alleged infidelity was read in court, she may well be one of the first women to be “doxxed”, that is, exposed as a target through malicious releases of personal information.

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The very specific context of the Duchess’ experience, Foy said, is that she does not regret her actions. “Her affair was exposed, and her love letter was exposed, and her photos were exposed. To him, there is no shame in the act,” said Foy. “The idea that he might think he made a mistake, that’s not his response.

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“The response, on the other hand, was ‘how could this be allowed?’ His deepest thoughts and the things he held most dear in his heart were this romantic relationship; that’s her pride, who she is, what she identifies as [about] wanted and admired. That is a large part of his character and who he is. To expose it, [she asked] ‘how can that be allowed?’ It was heartbreaking for him. And to see that someone [she] loved go by any means, that there is no line of dignity, or nothing sacred, [was] just embarrassing.

“And then people like divorce prosecutors say the words your lover said to you. That’s wrong,” Foy added. “It’s not that she’s ashamed of what was said…she’s ashamed that this happened, that this was allowed to happen and that her husband was allowed into her house and stole her property, and then allowed in court.”

Because Very British Scandal and Crown passing through the realm of the British upper class in the 1960s, comparisons are inevitable, even though the two women are clearly separate universes. As much as Elizabeth II stitched service, reserves and omniscient power, the Duchess of Argyll is a study in her disheveled temperament. In many ways, he is not the villain of the story. But equally, it’s sometimes hard to see the essential heroism – or anything that redeems – in the characters.

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“It was amazing to play someone who basically behaved like a child,” Foy said with a laugh. “Everything is someone else’s fault. She is emotional, perfectly capable of screaming, and screaming and crying. In her book, she cries at the drop of a hat. She says she cries all the time. I don’t think he is. I think she can live her life without tears most of the time, but it’s quite emotional, but then also not emotionally eloquent.

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Likewise, Foy says, it’s “delicious, really because you get to see someone making bad choices, bad life choices. I love acting, and I hope I play a lot of varied and different characters, but [she] sometimes painful to play; someone who can’t hold back. They can’t stop themselves.”

Very British Scandal streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, April 22.

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