“My mother did not tell me playing rantum-scantum would be thus”
To be in a marriage where your partner wants you to sleep with Oliver Chris on the side might seem like an ideal scenario for several people I know, but as The Scandalous Lady W shows us, dreams rarely match up to reality. Continuing my belated catch-up of TV from throughout 2015, BBC2 repeated this 90 minute drama from the summer and finally having the time to watch things, I sat down for some Georgian shenanigans.
Written by David Eldridge from Hallie Rubenhold’s book Lady Worsley’s Whim, The Scandalous Lady W tells the sorry marital woes of Seymour, Lady Worsley. Married to Tory MP Sir Richard Worsley, the heiress was taken aback to discover that his carnal desires stretched wanting her to sleep with other men whilst he peeped through the keyhole and whilst she complied at first – a man’s wife being his property and all – she eventually eloped with one of them.
Director Sheree Folkson uses the ensuing court case – where Worsley sued George Bisset, the lover, for £20,000 for impinging on his property rights (or something) – as the hook for the drama, repeatedly flashing back to flesh out the reality of the Worsleys’ marriage. And it’s quite the stark tale, exposing societal hypocrisy towards women, especially sexually confident ones, and the rights continually denied to them, as landowners, as mothers, as wives.
An astonishingly vibrant performance from Natalie Dormer and an equally thrilling, if chilling, turn from Shaun Evans anchor the story marvellously, as her extrovert ways find themselves increasingly before their time and his barely repressed perversions hollow him out personally, even if professionally he (of course) remains untouched. Aneurin Banard’s Bissett can’t quite match them for intensity but Peter Sullivan makes a marvellously slimy lawyer and it’s always nice to Oliver Chris and Richard McCabe. A fascinating bit of history and gender politics, impressively mounted.