Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode three of The Trial Of Christine Keeler. Read on at your own peril…
It certainly seems in this week’s episode that Christine’s dream of “escaping to London to find my fortune” is set to turn into a nightmare.
In the second episode of the BBC series, Christine had decided to sell her story to The Daily Mirror, telling them about her affair with John Profumo (Ben Miles) and her association with Russian attaché Colonel Ivanov (Visar Vishka). Her decision left her friend Stephen Ward (James Norton), who had introduced her to Profumo, unhappy, and the pair had fought.
This week, the net is closing in around Profumo, Christine and Stephen. Here, Stylist contributor Sarah Shaffi makes sense of everything that happened in episode three of The Trial of Christine Keeler…
What measures does Profumo take to stop Christine’s story being told?
A powerful man, Profumo pursues a number of avenues to try and prevent the publication of The Daily Mirror’s story.
He starts by talking to Hollis, the director-general of MI5, about issuing a D-notice – an official request to newspapers to not publish the story on the grounds of national security. Profumo argues that Colonel Ivanov is either a spy or a double agent, and Christine talking about him could be a security risk. Profumo isn’t just worried about The Daily Mirror; anything Christine says in court – and she’s planning to talk about Profumo and Ivanov – can be legally reported by any paper, meaning the story has legs.
Hollis tells Profumo that as Ivanov is now back in Russia, there’s no security risk. “Publish and be damned,” says Hollis.
Profumo follows that failed bid to stop the story by going to his lawyer, and asking him to arrange to pay Christine off. After discussions, Christine agrees to a sum of £5,000 to keep quiet, but at a meeting, Profumo’s lawyer only pays £500.
Profumo then talks to fellow MP Martin Redmayne (Tim McInnerny), telling him that Christine asked for £5,000 to keep quiet. Redmayne advises Profumo that he could threaten to take Christine to court for blackmail.
Why does The Daily Mirror pull Christine’s story?
While Profumo is working on his own ways of shutting down Christine, he also enlists the help of Stephen, asking him to get the note Profumo sent to Christine during their affair back from The Daily Mirror.
Seeing no other option, Stephen goes directly to the newspaper and speaks to the journalists, persuading them that Christine is lying. They return the letter to Stephen, which he sends on to Profumo.
When Christine, angry at Profumo for going back on their deal to pay her £5,000, goes back to The Daily Mirror, and discovers what Stephen has done, she is livid.
Where does Christine disappear to?
Seeking comfort, Christine heads back to the club she used to frequent with ex-boyfriend Johnny Edgecombe (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), but finds she is no longer welcome. She encounters Lucky there, and laments how dating a black man resulted in her being called names; Lucky is less than sympathetic, and tells Christine that she has no idea what it’s like to be abused by strangers. He has a point, given the racism and hatred he and other black people in the UK faced at the time.
Upset, Christine calls her friend and “manager” Paul Mann (Jack Greenlees) and the pair head to Alicante, meaning Christine misses testifying in Johnny’s trial. The judge goes ahead anyway, even though Christine, who is the key witness, has failed to turn up. Even without her evidence, Johnny is found guilty on multiple counts, and is jailed for seven years.
What are the political class doing about Profumo?
Rumours are swirling around Parliament about Profumo’s affair with Christine, which he continues to deny.
The papers’ reports on Johnny’s trial mention Christine’s affair with a powerful government minister who has an actress wife, although they don’t name Profumo.
The Labour opposition see an opportunity, and MPs George Wigg (Danny Webb) and Barbara Castle (Buffy Davis) ask questions in the House of Commons about the rumours.
Scared, the Conservative whip and Profumo’s fellow MPs call Profumo in for a middle of the night meeting, where they once again ask him about the affair. He continues to deny it, and they come up with a statement he will read in the House of Commons. Profumo is warned that if he makes the statement and is lying, there will be grave consequences. Profumo says there won’t be any problem, and proceeds to give the statement.
What lies does Profumo tell the House of Commons?
While his wife Valerie (Emilia Fox) watches from the public gallery, Profumo tells a packed House of Commons that he last saw Christine in December 1961, and that “any suggestion that I was responsible for or involved with” her absence from Johnny’s trial is “entirely and wholly untrue”. This is untrue; Christine chooses to run away because of Profumo’s actions in offering her money and then not following through.
Profumo says he and Valerie first met Chrstine at a house party in July 1961 at Cliveden House, where they also saw Stephen and Ivanov.
Apart from that, he says the only time he met Ivanov was during an official reception at the Russian Embassy. This is a lie; Ivanov and Profumo were often at Stephen’s house together while Profumo was conducting his affair with Christine.
Between July and December 1961, Profumo says, he met Christine about half a dozen times when he went to visit Stephen at his flat; Valerie is visibly shocked at the revelation. “Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms, there was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler,” Profumo tells the House of Commons. This, of course, is a complete lie, but Profumo tells the Commons that he “shall not hesitate to issue writs of slander and libel should any scandalous allegations be made or repeated outside of this house”.
Why does it matter that Profumo lied to the House of Commons?
Lying in Parliament is a very serious charge, and those found to have been lying will generally lose their ministerial portfolio. The person in question would also be expected to resign, or be sacked. Of course, if Profumo was found to be lying, the consequences would stretch further, damaging the government he is part of, who stood by him while he made his statement. In short, Profumo’s lies could bring down the government.
Why does Christine return to the UK?
Christine had been planning to stay in Alicante for a while, but Paul has arranged a deal with the Express newspaper for her to tell her story. The pair fly back and make their way to a hotel where Christine’s mum meets them. At the airport in Spain and at the hotel in London, Christine is best by reporters. She tells the press outside the hotel that Profumo was correct in saying she hadn’t seen him since 1961, but gives an exaggerated wink, implying there’s more to the story.
Inside her hotel room, Christine receives a call from Stephen, who tells her he’s been helping her all along; he bankrolled her trip to Alicante, and tells her that he’s always been a fan of having his cake and eating it. The pair seem happy, but as the show ends Christine’s voiceover tells us that the nightmare is about to come true for her and Stephen. We’ll learn more about that nightmare in the next episode…
Images: BBC/Ecosse Films