With BBC One’s A Very British Scandal coming to our screens soon, the show’s star, Claire Foy, has revealed what it was like playing Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.
It’s the highly anticipated television series that we’re all patiently waiting to get stuck into. A Very British Scandal is set to air on BBC One on Boxing Day (26 December) – and as well as having a stellar lineup of acting talent, it’s also shining a light on a particularly misogynistic period of time in British history.
Written by Sarah Phelps (Dublin Murders), A Very British Scandal focuses on the divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, one of the most notorious and brutal legal cases of the 20th century.
“Famed for her charisma, beauty and style, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, dominated the front pages as a divorce featuring accusations of forgery, theft, violence, drug-taking, secret recording, bribery and an explicit polaroid picture all played out in the white-hot glare of the 1960s media,” reads the official synopsis.
“A Very British Scandal turns this scandal inside out in order to explore the social and political climate of post-war Britain, looking at attitudes towards women and asking whether institutional misogyny was widespread at the time.”
The synopsis continues: “As her contemporaries, the press, and the judiciary sought to vilify her, Margaret kept her head held high with bravery and resilience, refusing to go quietly as she was betrayed by her friends and publicly shamed by a society that revelled in her fall from grace.”
Ahead of the Sunday night premiere, the BBC has shared an insightful interview with Claire Foy, who digs into what it was like playing such a meaningful role and giving a voice to an unheard story.
“The Duchess of Argyll was famous before she became that title”
Talking about playing Margaret, Foy says that she was an “It Girl” and “a debutante.”
She says: “The year that Margaret was presented to court was the year it was all about fashion and romance. She came out when she was young – at 16. She just loved everything to do with society and being in amongst it. She was special. She very famously married the Duke of Argyll and became aristocracy for a brief period.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a drama where both of the people are so openly flawed”
Speaking about what went wrong in the relationship between the Duke and Duchess, Foy admits that “they are toxic from the beginning.”
“Margaret is very high octane and [the Duke’s] life is very much about alcohol and his addictions. She naively went into the relationship and didn’t want to find out anything else about him but also vice versa.
“It’s fascinating in a way as I don’t think I’ve ever been in a drama where both of the people are so openly flawed. They don’t try and lessen their snobbery, their naivety or any of those things.
“They do love each other and it is, in its own way, a love story. And ten years after they divorced, Ian died. I would like to think there was some sort of romantic unfinished relationship. They saw each other at their worst and I think there is something in that.”
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“Margaret’s sexuality seems to have become another personality or something outside of herself, which I find really bizarre and strange”
“Most people have a sex life, but they don’t go on about it all the time, nor should they have to,” says Foy.
“Calling her the ‘Dirty Duchess’ is so misogynistic and I would like to think things have changed, but I don’t think they have.”
Foy is keen on showing “how easily she fell in love”
“In this story, what I’m keen on is how easily she fell in love and how she kept letters and mementos of her lovers. In a way, I think that was the romantic side of her and her sexuality was linked to that.
“But also in this story, no one should have the right to know that side of her. It’s no one’s business and it never was. It’s straight misogyny.”
“I wanted to be directed by a female as it’s only happened a few times in my career”
On her reaction to reading the scripts, Foy comments: “Sarah writes a very good script. It’s written like a novel and it makes complete sense. I was really interested in how much she wanted to tell the story of Margaret. And then I spoke to Anne [Sewitsky], the director, who was so talented and I wanted to be directed by a female as its only happened a few times in my career.
“She wanted to make something quite dark which I thought was an interesting balance to tread.”
“It’s depressing as I don’t think a lot has changed”
Talking to the BBC about why this story has modern relevance, Foy says: “It’s depressing as I don’t think a lot has changed.
“I hope that it allows a woman who was judged, ridiculed, belittled, manipulated and taken advantage of by the legal system, to at least have that shown. I think that the law doesn’t particularly treat women very well at all and this is just one example of how the odds were not stacked in her favour. She was an interesting woman and the more stories about interesting women, the better.”
A Very British Scandal airs on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 26 December.