The Trial of Christine Keeler: sex scandal told with the vigour of Confessions of a Window Cleaner

TV Review: This telling of a very British scandal – heaving with sensuous imagery and light on intellectual demand – belongs to the Instagram age

The official trailer for The Trial of Christine Keeler, starring Sophie Cookson. Video: BBC

 

However we want to remember The Profumo Affair – that titillating mess of sex, political upheaval and the dull threat of nuclear annihilation – the act of remembering usually says more about us. We tend to sharpen the details we like and smudge over others, simplifying the narrative, fetishising the fashions, reducing history to a few memorable catchphrases. (Well, we would, wouldn’t we?)

The Trial of Christine Keeler (BBC Two, Sunday, 9pm), its latest telling, begins with a disclaimer, admitting some details have been altered for dramatic effect, before adding, in a gossipy aside, “But mainly, you couldn’t make it up.”

Perhaps not. But you can always dress it up. Writer Amanda Coe’s version seizes Christine Keeler as its protagonist, a young woman we first see pursued by the camera, like a startled gazelle, immaculately turned out in a polka-dot dress. “How can one girl have the power to bring the whole world crumbling down?” Sophie Cookson’s character asks, in awed voiceover, trailing her predicament while simultaneously originating the humble brag.

It is worth remembering, of course, that Keeler is just 19 years old, stunningly gorgeous, and, to all appearances, independent in a confirmedly swinging London. This is her story, for better or worse. Its telling – heaving with sensuous imagery and very light on intellectual demand – now belongs to the Instagram age, simply for worse. “Men are such fools,” Keeler tells us, as the show lays out her sexual history with the vigour of Confessions of a Window Cleaner. “But I like them. And they seem to like me.”

And on it goes in this vein, introducing the political players – James Norton’s simpering, effete, louche Soviet stooge Stephen Ward, Ben Miles’s precious, waxy John Profumo – while attempting to find some substance in Keeler beyond the breathless dear-diary style of her voice over. “I had no idea what an extraordinary life I was leading,” she tells us. “Everyone was worrying about the bomb when they should have been worrying about me,” she tells us, adding, lest we miss the point, “I was much more dangerous than Russia.” Enough already.

This kind of dreadful overwriting does not spell huge confidence in the story (given artificial propulsion by tiresomely frequent “one year earlier...” time hops), or its audience (spoon fed the importance of every moment), or, ultimately, its heroine. “These girls aren’t going to cause any trouble”, MI5 decide early, only to realise, by the episode’s end, that they are indeed going to cause a lot of trouble after all. Keeler, who we see at one point playing around with a handgun in her knickers, is more armed and dangerous than just a pretty, vapid bystander, we are meant to understand. But when we later see a tabloid headline that helped thrust her into public consciousness with the words, “Model in Shooting Drama”, you have to wonder, amid all the glam and gloss that surrounds her, how much deeper is the series?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.