Content warning: mentions of sexual abuse and abortion
It goes without saying that historical dramas are predictable; the audience knows what will happen before the episode begins, plot twists and all. BBC’s new six-part drama The Trial of Christine Keeler refreshingly manages to avoid this obstacle by focusing on Keeler herself, avoiding a stale retelling of the political impact of the affair and its exposure.
The drama follows a scandal which gripped the nation in Britain’s so-called ‘swinging sixties’. The scandalised reaction to the affair of John Profumo, then Minister for War, and teenager Christine Keeler (also thought to be involved with a Soviet naval attaché), exposed the nation’s archaic sexual politics and Cold War paranoia.
The story is well known, but directors Andrea Harkin and Leanne Welham manage to bring a new spin by telling the story from Keeler’s perspective. As a result, it becomes a portrayal of a young, vulnerable, woman whose troubled background is exploited by those more privileged, challenging the traditional image of Keeler.
The first five minutes of the show suggest it will be yet another story of the deviant woman with no context. Keeler is shown leaving her boyfriend’s bed wearing a glamorous dress with perfectly quaffed hair, checking a ladder in her tights.
Yet this impression is immediately undermined when Keeler (Sophie Cookson) asks ‘If a man finds a girl attractive, is she the one to blame?’ Indeed, the concept of blame becomes the central focus of the series as it goes on.
The first episodes show both the aftermath of the affair’s exposure and Christine’s early life. We see her and her best friend, Mandy (Ellie Bamber) being patronised, entertaining elderly gentlemen for a fee and often completely exploited. They’re shot at, hit in the street and blatantly lied to.
A particularly distressing scene depicts the aftermath of Keeler’s teenage self-administered abortion, contrasting the character of Keeler with her past. It’s this knowledge of her circumstances and backgrounds that make the plot so compelling.
Bamber and Cookson perfectly compliment each other, creating even more of a connection with the viewer and the programme. Mandy’s childish naivety in the chaos around her presents a very different side to the judgemental portrayal by the media.
The trial of public opinion on Christine Keeler will undoubtedly continue after the finale. Obviously to those who know about the Profumo Scandal this story is not a new one. But this drama manages to bring a new light to a story well told, one which questions entrenched opinion and who really is ‘the one to blame’?
Image: Hollie Joiner