A report this week gave a damning account of rape prosecutions in the UK. Reports of rape are at an all-time high. Prosecutions are at an all-time low, dropping 70 per cent in four years.
Sixty-three per cent of adult rape investigations are closed because the victim decided they no longer wished to proceed.
Anatomy of a Scandal is a new six-part thriller on Netflix. Based on a novel by Sarah Vaughan and made by the team behind The Undoing and Big Little Lies it follows the shock and fallout after a high-profile politician is accused of rape by one of his parliamentary assistants.
James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend) was born into a life of privilege and lives a seemingly perfect life with his wife Sophie (Sienna Miller) and their two children. But when the accusations from his colleague come to light, the entire social structure their lives are built on starts to crack and crumble.
Anatomy of a Scandal is guaranteed to get people talking. It’s addictive viewing, for positive and less positive reasons. The camerawork is dizzying, often feeling like it’s being filmed by a team of acrobatic gymnasts. And you’d need their athletic flexibility to handle some of the twists the plot gets tied up in without feeling a bit strained.
But under the melodrama are some serious dramatic points.
Naomi Scott, best known as Princess Jasmine in the remake of Disney’s Aladdin and one of Charlie’s rebooted Angels, plays Olivia Lytton. Olivia had an affair with her boss, James Whitehouse, but there is later a sexual encounter she says was non-consensual.
“It’s interesting how many people don’t fully understand what consent is,” Scott tells The Big Issue. “It’s not really something that a lot of people talk about, it’s not something that you grow up being taught about.
“Even if people are coming from different perspectives, so long as it’s starting a conversation, hopefully there is then a gateway to be more educated, but just in the context of something that’s really entertaining.”
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary, plays Olivia’s lawyer, Kate Woodcroft. Dockery agrees consent is the biggest issue Anatomy of a Scandal tackles.
Dockery says: “It’s a real exploration of consent, and how complex that issue is. If you can be part of a show that actually creates healthy conversation, I think that’s really good. I predict that’s what this show will do. Create conversation.”
Scott knew her character was speaking for many women who, for whatever reason, do not have their voices heard.
“Walking out into the courtroom set was really nerve-wracking – and it’s not real,” she says.
“I can’t even imagine how terrifying it must be for someone to have to relive their trauma, retell it to people who are there to judge whether they’re even telling the truth or not. It does begin to open your eyes to why maybe not everyone does come forward and why it’s such an incredibly brave thing for someone to do.
“Those statistics are really shocking and really sad. When you look at the prosecution rate, you think, ‘Wow, no wonder a lot of people feel like they don’t want to come forward’.
“The really important thing is not asking too many questions of why someone comes forward or why they don’t, but asking where does this issue stem from – then dealing with that issue.”
You get the sense as episodes of Anatomy of a Scandal progress, that Kate Woodcroft’s devotion to the case stems from a tragic incident in her own life.
“There’s a real connection between Olivia and Kate, an understanding of what they’ve experienced,” Dockery confirms.
“As the show goes on, you begin to see the unravelling of Kate. As each layer begins to peel back you see who she really is and the roots of why she does what she does.
“Whatever way you look at it, there are so many things that you can draw parallels with,” Dockery continues, alluding to the numerous affairs real-life politicians have had, the corruption and hypocrisy of the partygate scandal and so much more.
“This show will inevitably bring up so much conversation. There are things that I learned along the way, like these [rape] statistics I wasn’t aware of that some people may find shocking. And I think if it creates awareness, then that’s great.”
The focus of Anatomy of a Scandal is on Sophie and James Whitehouse and Kate Woodcroft. The victim of the alleged crime, Olivia Lytton, is mostly seen only on the stand in court or during flashbacks of the sexual assault.
How this crime has impacted her life outside of these moments is left unknown.
As is all too often the case in real life, Scott was aware that accusing a high-profile figure of sexual assault “is always going to define” her character, no matter the outcome of the case.
The series leaves Olivia’s future, perhaps deliberately, unclear.
“I’d say Olivia would definitely still be in politics in some way or another,” Scott says.
“Maybe that’s more at a grassroots level. I think she’d be having a break from Westminster for a while. We did shoot something that was more of an indication of where Olivia is headed.
“Obviously, this is a fictional character but a lot of people can, I’m sure, relate to some of the experiences that Olivia has gone through. For some people, it might remind them of someone that they know.
“I think there’s something quite interesting about the open-endedness – for people to begin to think where she could be, what she could be doing. I think that is quite powerful.”
Anatomy of a Scandal is available to watch now on Netflix
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