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With: John Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Bridget Fonda, Ian McKellen, Leslie Phillips
Written by: Michael Thomas
Directed by: Michael Caton-Jones
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, and for language
Running Time: 115
Date: 03/03/1989

Scandal (1989)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Behind Closed Doors

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Sometimes the typical workaday film director can go unnoticed in this world of first-timers and "auteurs." Many of these directors turn in film after film, and though they may be undistinguished or impersonal, you can almost always count on a certain mark of quality. Michael Curtiz, the director of the famous Casablanca (1942) was one of these. Curtiz made over a hundred movies, and perhaps four or five are still widely enjoyed today. But isn't that four or five more than many other directors?

I'm thinking today of Michael Caton-Jones who gave Michael J. Fox a relatively smart and painless romantic comedy, Doc Hollywood (1991), introduced us to Leonardo DiCaprio and got another fine performance out of Robert De Niro in This Boy's Life (1993), and made a better film than Braveheart with the excellent Rob Roy (1995). But let's take a look Caton-Jones' first feature film, Scandal (1989), which has been newly released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Scandal was supposed to have caused an uproar when it was first released in 1989, not only because it depicted the events that caused the fall of the conservative party in England in the early 60's, but because it contained a great deal of nudity and sexuality. Perhaps the English got all upset over the film, but here in the U.S., I remember it quietly sinking onto video store shelves with hardly a ripple. That's too bad, because it's a very good film with hardly a misstep that stands up more than 10 years later.

John Hurt stars in a truly great performance as Stephen Ward, a doctor who enjoys finding poor girls, grooming them, and setting them up with his wealthy and powerful friends, just like a modern-day Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (1938). His latest find is Christine Keeler (Joanne Whaley Kilmer), a lovely lass whom he sets up with Defense Minister John Profumo (Ian McKellen). Christine also becomes friends with the more outgoing Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance). Before you can close the shades, a scandal erupts and our heroes find themselves on trial.

Scandal has the insight to try and portray the relationship between Hurt and Kilmer. Onlookers at the time assumed it was either sexual or business. The movie suggests that they were friends who stuck together and enjoyed each other tremendously. It also suggests that these two players never had sex. Indeed, the movie's most moving moment comes at the end in the courtroom when Kilmer is being grilled on the stand and Hurt rises and shouts "this is not fair!" with just the right quaver in his voice.

Caton-Jones gets inside the guts of his story without spending too much time on sensation or on re-creating the period. Scandal moves with perfect pace and seems to contain throwaway scenes that serve no purpose except for deepening the characters (which I love). The sex is teasing and well-done. An orgy sequence is far more graphic than what Eyes Wide Shut showed, and yet, here is the uncut version available on DVD while that film remains censored.

The Anchor Bay DVD boasts a sharp, clear transfer of the film. It contains the trailer, but no other extras. Still, I was glad for the opportunity to see this film, which got away from me when first released. It's a minor film to be sure, but a welcome addition to any library.

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