Anatomy of a Scandal Doesn’t Hold Up Under the Scalpel | TV/Streaming

Prosecuting Whitehouse is Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery). A respected barrister, known to win cases, ruthless, determined, Woodcroft is also sleeping with her married ex-mentor, whom she first pursued when she was his student. At multiple turns the writing in “Anatomy” introduces the idea of sexual dynamics as complex as the Gordian knot, but instead of addressing them with maturity, empathy, and intelligence, the writers simply slice through the knot, leaving them dangling in the wind. Dockery does her best to elevate the material, and the strident nature of her diction and body language certainly deserve praise. There’s even an excellent facial muscle twitch, later in the series, that’s more compelling than the entire show. But even Dockery seems to know the high drama of the courtroom exchanges is more Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” than BBC’s “Silk”. Phoebe Nicholls also rates high in her brief, but pitch-perfect, appearance as Tuppence Whitehouse, James’s posh mother, airily decrying Olivia to Sophie, and lightly defending her son from the allegations while wondering about his excellent lying skills.

There are several bizarre gaps in the show’s structure. While Whitehouse is shown rehearsing with his lawyer, Woodcroft is never shown consulting with Lytton; how will the audience know if, according to English law, the former is allowed but the latter isn’t? Another glaring error in the show’s writing is its constant use of Americanisms. The English say “surname,” not “last name”; “gone to the cinema” or “the pictures,” not “the movies.” Out of curiosity I went and read Anatomy of a Scandal, the novel, after I finished the series. It’s not bad: the writing is more acerbic, more personal, less slapdash. The strongest page-to-screen characterization is that of Prime Minister Tom Sturridge, whose TV double bears a striking resemblance to former PM David Cameron (himself no stranger to horrible behavior at Oxford), and who, for some mysterious reason, refuses to distance himself from James. Everyone else has been, well, Americanized. 

I won’t give it away but the only crew members who deserve commendation are the hair department (they know why). All episodes of “Anatomy of a Scandal” are directed by SJ Clarkson, whose credits include an episode of “Succession”. I wish I knew why she chose canted angles as a substitute for storytelling. The series is created and written by Melissa James Gibson and David E. Kelley. The former was part of the writing and producing team on “House of Cards” starting in season four (when everything began to slide downhill, and I don’t just mean the chaos in the Underwood’s lives). As for Kelley, after the disastrous “The Undoing” and this misfire, the real scandal in his life may be if he can figure out how to recover for a second season.

Whole season screened for review.

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