Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal: Sienna Miller series discusses gender, consent, privileges and rights

If you’re looking for an escape, Netflix’s new miniseries might not be it. This has given rise to many scandals in recent years – to the point of sparking.

If only the story of a famous politician who was caught having an affair with a staff member was a novel.

But we know from fiction and nonfiction that it happens all too often – and even in Australia’s current election campaign, these real-life examples are never far from the headlines.

There are several plot points in the Netflix miniseries Scandal Anatomy which evoked much of the disgrace that plagued the Morrison Administration during this period, from issues of sexual assault and consent to privilege checks and party leaders who refused to back down from colleagues accused of sexual harassment.

Watching certain scenes in the series triggers painful memories of the actual press conference. Some of that dialogue, like the words spoken by the fictional PM on screen, comes from the same political playbook of deviance and defiance.

So be careful, because as much Scandal Anatomy has the essence of a party and a pusher, it’s not a runaway TV.

The series is adapted from the bestselling book by former court reporter Sarah Vaughan, which bases its story on two British sex scandals, one involving then and now PM Boris Johnson frontbencher and the other involving a footballer.

But Vaughan’s inspiration, the specificity of the two cases, only highlights how pervasive this behavior is, and that’s what’s great about this streaming adaptation. As much as some nuanced travel show or overplay develops dramatically, there’s an urgency to storytelling that makes it more interesting than not.

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Of course, it never hurts to have the main cast – Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery, and Rupert Friend – who knows exactly how to get the camera’s attention.

The series begins with famed Tory MP James Whitehouse (Friend) confessing to his wife Sophie (Miller) that he is having an affair with a researcher on his staff, Olivia (Naomi Scott). James only told him because his story was going to be published soon.

Sophie is the ideal political wife: She is polished and calm, and she stands by her husband’s side. Her pain is only visible when Miller takes moments from other characters to go behind Sophie’s stoic layer, drawing on rudeness that may stem from her own published experiences.

But what appears, at first, to be a miserable ordinary sex scandal soon turns into something bigger when Olivia accuses James of rape.

Scandal Anatomywriter Melissa James Gibson (American, house of cards) and David E. Kelley (Exercise, Big little lie) made the choice in portraying James as a man who truly believed he was innocent of what he was accused of, steadfast in his belief that he was a good person because that was what he had been told his whole life.

In that riddle Scandal Anatomy is the most effective, the examination of a special man who believes that whatever he does cannot be wrong because every social, personal and structural influence from birth has strengthened his consequence-free worldview.

Key to that is a flashback to the series when James and Sophie met in Oxford, where he was a member of the Libertines, a fictional banquet club based on a real-life bastion of all-male elitism that counts David Cameron and Boris Johnson as members.

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This hazy flashback establishes privileges and entitlements as an evil force that sweeps away the dignity and humanity of all people.

Kelley is a veteran when it comes to courtroom scenes so there is dynamism to many of the sequences set in the paneled room as James and Olivia each tell their side of the story, including to sue QC Kate Woodcroft (Dockery) and defense attorney Angela Regan (Josette Simon) .

The interrogation is punctuated with flashbacks to the meeting between James and Olivia in the elevator, which along with other depictions of his word-of-mouth moments highlight the show’s desire to present a gloomy, factual and faith-based scene.

It’s pretty clear by the end of six episodes who’s telling the real truth versus their truth, even if the path is sometimes clunky or half-baked. And in the end, Sophie, despite being the main character, doesn’t get good service despite Miller’s best efforts.

But with all its flaws, Scandal Anatomy is a more interesting streaming show that has at least some curiosity about the equally flawed world we live in.

Anatomy of a Scandal is streaming now on Netflix

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