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Christine Keeler ‘soft porn’ drama divides critics


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Christine Keeler ‘soft porn’ drama divides critics

Image caption Christine Keeler is played by Sophie Cookson The Trial of Christine Keeler, which began on Sunday night, has divided the opinion of critics and viewers alike.The show tells the infamous 1960s “sex scandal” story of the affair between government war minister John Profumo and the 19-year-old Christine Keeler.With two sex scenes in the…

Christine Keeler ‘soft porn’ drama divides critics

Sophie Cookson playing Christine Keeler

Image caption

Christine Keeler is played by Sophie Cookson

The Trial of Christine Keeler, which began on Sunday night, has divided the opinion of critics and viewers alike.

The show tells the infamous 1960s “sex scandal” story of the affair between government war minister John Profumo and the 19-year-old Christine Keeler.

With two sex scenes in the first few minutes, the Mail called it a “soft porn version of The Crown”.

The Independent described it as “a timely, scandalous story about sleazy politicians”.

The six-part series stars Sophie Cookson as Keeler and Ben Miles as Profumo, while James Norton is Stephen Ward, an osteopath and artist who instigated the pair’s meeting.

Where previous versions focused on the men in the story, this new BBC version is told from Keeler’s point of view.

Sex was at the heart of the story and what ultimately led it to contribute towards the downfall of Harold Macmillan’s government.

Writing in the Mail, Christopher Stevens began his five-star review saying: “Auntie, really! The nation’s staid and stately broadcaster has revealed herself to be as secretly kinky as a High Court judge in silk suspenders!

Image caption

Ben Miles as John Profumo and Sophie Cookson as Christine Keeler

“Strip clubs, love nests, squalid bedsits, debauched weekend house parties – there was rumpy-pumpy going on all over the place.

“With perfectly observed props and costumes to evoke the period, and an array of notorious characters, this was like a soft porn version of The Crown.”

Ultimately Stevens praised the show for giving Keeler a voice.

“For the first time, this drama gives us an impression of who she was – reckless, naive, needy, a panicky drama princess who had been treated as a sexual object by much older men from the time she was old enough to start babysitting for their children.

“She was a danger to everyone, herself included, but seen in this light you cannot help but feel sorry for her.”

The Independent’s Ed Cumming gave the show three stars and questioned the muddling of the story’s events.

“The chronology is jumbled up, seemingly in order to get the infamous Cliveden swimming pool scene in as near to the start as possible.

Image caption

Christine Keeler (Sophie Cookson) with her boyfriend Johnny Edgecombe (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett)

“The sex, spies and shooting are one thing, but the pool marked the Profumo affair as truly salacious. A pool? In Berkshire? Pass the smelling salts.”

But Cumming also said the series had time “to develop” and tackle the all-too current “subtexts about racism, sexism, and nuclear anxiety alongside the central theme of powerful men abusing their positions”.

In the Telegraph, Anita Singh said in her four-star review that the drama “was a compelling history lesson, and – more than that – one that might help to repair the reputation of a much-maligned young woman”.

Singh also praised Cookson, calling her “a fine Keeler: as gorgeous as the real thing”. While Norton “did an excellent job of portraying the various elements of Ward’s nature: kind, charming, generous, manipulative, sleazy,” she added.

Image caption

James Norton plays social climber Steven Ward

Meanwhile, writing in The Guardian, Lucy Mangan called the opening episode “a cracker and the rest” in her four-star review.

She concluded: “If The Trial doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of last year’s A Very English Scandal, about the 70s equivalent of Keeler and its fallout, it remains a furiously fast, fun ride which doesn’t let the deeper, darker issues fall from its grasp.”

However Peter Crawley of the Irish Times was not impressed by what he saw as an attempt “to find some substance in Keeler beyond the breathless dear-diary style of her voice over”.

Crawley refers to the “dreadful overwriting”, adding that it did not “spell huge confidence in the story (given artificial propulsion by tiresomely frequent ‘one year earlier…’ time hops), or its audience (spoon fed the importance of every moment), or, ultimately, its heroine”.

Viewer reaction to the drama on Twitter focused on a number issues, the early sex scenes being one of them:

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Another was the chronology, with some saying the drama was “a little hard to follow”.

Others said the programme was not engaging enough.

Some said the 1989 film Scandal, which also dramatised the affair, was a better interpretation.

But there was also praise for the drama and the acting.


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