Scandal [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th March 2020).
The Film

"Scandal" (1989)

Christine Keeler (played by Joanne Whalley) is an 18 year old dancer at an exotic club who catches the eye of Dr. Stephen Ward (played by John Hurt), a man with many connections to the upper class including government officials. He charms her and introduces her to world of the rich and powerful, where sex can be used to gaining stature and secure a comfortable life. Christine also takes 16 year old dancer Mandy Rice-Davies (played by Bridget Fonda) under her wing and the two have various relationships over the years, but when Christine starts an intimate relationship with Secretary of State for War John Profumo (played by Ian McKellen), the affair balloons into a full blown scandal changing the political landscape of the United Kingdom.

"Scandal" was based on the notorious Profumo Affair, the sex scandal that brought an end to John Profumo's political career and bringing down the power of the Conservative Party the following election in 1964. While much had been said about the politicians involved, the women and Dr. Ward were placed in the devil's chair, ridiculed and mocked by the media and the people, ultimately leading to Ward's suicide before the end of his sentencing. Books have been published, been adapted to film and television, and one standout was the 1989 feature film which had quite a production history and release history.

Originally planned as a television mini-series by Palace Pictures with Stephen Frears directing, issues came with the lack of being able to find enough funding as well as a television channel willing to support the production. With Profumo still quite powerful with connections to Prime Minister Thatcher and though his charity work over the years, BBC, Channel 4, and others were not willing to sacrifice their reputation for controversy involving a retelling of a past scandal in which many of the real life counterparts were still alive at the time. Producer Stephen Wolley got in touch with Miramax Films head Harvey Weinstein who was interested, but as a theatrical film rather than for television. With that in mind, writer Michael Thomas and director Michael Caton-Jones had to condense the lengthy multi-part script to under two hours, as well as raising the bar with sexual content that wouldn't be allowed for television.

Casting was also difficult, as actors were also not willing to taint their reputations with the subject matter. Whalley was cast early on and was an excellent choice playing the very beautiful and seductive role of Christine Keeler, and helped that she had a resemblance to the real life counterpart. The film has quite a bit of nudity with both male and female including the infamous orgy scene, and the redone script included scenes of the leads to be in the nude. Whalley who was newly wed to Val Kilmer at the time had a sudden change when it came to shooting the scene where she first meets McKellen fully nude. Eventually a body double had to be used and there are actually no scenes featuring Whalley nude. This may have not satisfied producer Weinstein, but it did nothing to hinder the narrative. The casting of McKellen was also wonderful as a powerful man in words and stature, with his strictness yet vulnerable side seen. Bridget Fonda in an almost entirely British cast was slightly unusual, though it was something to help with the sales of the film in America to have a recognizable American. Though she was only starting her film career, coming from the Fonda family it certainly helped. John Hurt was a wildcard literally, as he was going through a divorce at the time and was not at his best mentally, frequently forgetting lines and being in a drunken spell for some time. Regardless, he does somehow give a good performance showing that even when Hurt was not at the top of his game, he was still able to bring something memorable to the role. Compared to the character of Keeler, there is a bit of mystery to the character of Stephen Ward and his background. Things could have been explored more, but this was narrative in the view of Christine Keeler, rather than Ward or others.

While the true story also focused on the politics, "Scandal" does not go into the political intrigue much or how things were handled on their end. It's almost entirely through the eyes of Christine Keeler and therefore not much in the way of the average political thriller. If one is looking for a racy film with a lot of nudity and sexual situations, the film does not hit the nail on the head either. While there is nudity in some scenes, it is a character study, the treatment of sex in the time period, and the consequences of how higher figures can ruin people down below. But once the film was completed and submitted for ratings, there was trouble on both sides of the Atlantic. The BBFC spotted real sex during the orgy scene, apparently by two extras who were a real couple taking their background role too seriously. The few seconds where it showed had to be optically censored. The US had some minor additional cuts, and not exactly cuts instructed by Weinstein who was notorious for doing such to many of his distributed films.

The film was first released on March 3rd 1989 in the UK and was a surprise hit for Palace Films. With a budget of £3.2 million and grossed a total $15 million worldwide. While it was a hit with critics there were conservatives that saw it as a trashy piece that used the angles of sex and being a true story to entice audiences. The film was nominated for one Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, and was snubbed entirely by the Oscars and the BAFTAs. While it's been said by the filmmakers that it most likely was due to politics, it was still a hit with audiences and critics at the time and has held up over the years. All the principal characters represented in the film have died since then, with the real life Christine Keeler passing away in 2017, but the story continues to fascinate with the mini-series The Trial of Christine Keeler" made in 2019. "Scandal" may be one of many sex scandal films out there, but it's a unique one that focuses on the female character rather than the acts and that is a refreshing take.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray / region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned and remastered in 4K, and a release print was used as reference for color grading. The results are absolutely wonderful. Colors are very natural in skin tones and the period wardrobe which looks fairly modern look great as well. Whites are very bright and have a haloing quality and blacks are solid. Film grain is kept as is and framing is always stable. Damage is not to be seen anywhere and there is really nothing to fault with the transfer.

The film's runtime is 114:22.



















Audio

English LPCM 2.0 stereo
The original stereo soundtrack was remastered from the original magnetic audio tracks. It is mostly a mono film with the stereo separation used for music and some effects, such as scenes at the clubs and the score by Carl Davis. Dialogue and music are well balanced, with the music never sounding too powerful over the speaking portions. There are no issues of audio troubles such as hisses or pops, sounding very clean overall.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the feature.

Extras

This is a dual format set, with the film and extras presented on the Blu-ray and repeated in standard definition on the DVD.


DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary by Stephen Woolley and Michael Thomas
In this commentary, the producer and the writer discuss together about the casting process, how the original mini-series script was condensed, troubles the film had with the censors, and much more. The commentary starts quite talkative, but near the end there are more and more dead spaces with only a few comments now and then. This commentary was originally on the Icon UK DVD from 2010.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Audio commentary by Michael Caton-Jones
The director gives a solo commentary, talking about the experiences had on his first feature film and the troubles and changes the production had from dialogue changes to censor cuts, and much more. This commentary was originally on the Icon UK DVD from 2010.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"The Minister, The Model and The Russian Spy: The Making of Scandal" featurette (25:35)
In this featurette, former CEO of BBC Worldwide Rupert Gavin, Woolley, Hurt, and Caton-Jones give their insights into the production. From the script rewrites and the financing issues, the casting process, and the troubles it had with no one wanting to finance it, this is a nicely condensed retrospective. This featurette was originally on the Icon UK DVD from 2010.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Michael Caton-Jones Remembers Scandal" interview (26:40)
In this newly recorded interview, Caton-Jones discusses not only the film in retrospect but also his early days at film school and his near disastrous first meeting with Palace Pictures.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Stephen Woolley Remembers Scandal" interview (39:52)
Woolley's newly recorded interview gives an insight for Palace Films as well as the troubles the film encountered before and after release. He also discusses film censorship and his thoughts on "Scandal" being snubbed from the major awards ceremonies.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Nothing Has Been Proved" music video by Dusty Springfield (5:04)
Featuring clips from the film, vintage news footage, and Springfield singing, the theme song certainly has an 80s vibe courtesy of writers and producers The Pet Shop Boys. The music video comes from a very low definition source and upscaled, so there are a lot of issues with the presentation from softness and blurriness, though the audio sounds very good.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Stills Gallery (8:24)
An automated slideshow with promotional stills, on set stills,
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Cabaret Girl" 1956 documentary (26:24)
In this behind the scenes vintage documentary at Murray’s Cabaret Club, it shows the hiring process of new dancers at the exotic club where the real Christine Keeler worked for some time. It also shows their audition process, the training, dancing, and grooming of the women, as well as designers on creating the costumes for the shows.
Excellent transfer with colors, minimal damage, clear audio.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"The Riveter" 1986 graduate show film by Michael Caton-Jones (35:21)
In this short film, a father and teenage son on the lower end of the social spectrum decide tp start a new life out in the country to avoid the intrusion of social services. The print and audio quality is not very good, with a muddy looking picture looking to come from an analog source though shot originally on film, and audio having some dropouts at points.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.59:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

Trailer (2:55)
The original UK trailer is presented.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


DISC TWO (DVD)

Audio Commentary by producer Stephen Woolley and writer Michael Thomas
Audio Commentary by director Michael Caton-Jones
"The Minister, The Model and The Russian Spy: The Making of Scandal" featurette (24:34)
"Nothing Has Been Proved" music video by Dusty Springfield (4:52)
Stills Gallery (8:04)
"Cabaret Girl" 1956 documentary (25:20)
"The Riveter" 1986 graduate show film by Michael Caton-Jones (33:56)
Theatrical Trailer (2:48)

The film and the extras are repeated on the DVD.


Booklet
A 32 page booklet is included for the first pressing. First is the essay "Well He Would, Wouldn't He?" by author Jane Giles, referencing the line Mandy Rice-Davies said during the trial and was also repeated in the film. The essay goes into the themes of the film, the production and the reception as well. Next is "Notes on the Scandals" by writer and broadcaster Augustin Macellari, discussing about various political sex scandals in addition to the one featured in "Scandal". There are also full credits, special features information, stills, transfer info, and acknowledgements.


This release presents the first time "Scandal" has been available worldwide on Blu-ray though it has appeared on DVD in the past. The US had the first DVD release in 2000 which included a 5.1 audio option, but only the trailer as an extra and the transfer was non-anamorphic. The UK saw a release in 2010 from Icon, which included two audio commentaries, a featurette, and a television documentary on Yevgeny Ivanov, who was also involved in the scandal. The UK Blu-ray carries all except the TV documentary, and adds its own extras which makes it the most desirable of all releases.

Overall

"Scandal" certainly turned heads dramatizing a real life sex scandal, but it was much more by centering it on the female lead rather than focusing on racy titillation. The BFI's dual format set has an excellent transfer and a great selection of extras making this an easy recommendation.

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A Extras: A- Overall: A

 


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