A man’s profession often crawls deep into his skin and becomes a part of his character. What good is a politician who doesn’t lie, and what good is a lawyer who doesn’t manipulate the truth? The Netflix miniseries, “Anatomy of a Scandal,” revolves around these two principal characters, who are both hiding the truth. While one of them is in complete denial of it and bluntly lies straight on the face, the other one is a bit in the gray area and is not lying but struggling with the truth that has tormented her throughout the years. And thus, the narrative asks the question, “Will their truth ever come out?”
Based on Sarah Vaughan’s fictional novel of the same name, “Anatomy of a Scandal,” in six long episodes, follows a court case where a minister of the British Parliament, James Whitehouse, is accused of sexually assaulting his parliamentary researcher-cum-lover, Olivia Lytton. While the plot revolves primarily around a courtroom drama in search of the truth, one aspect that distinguishes it from other series is its discussion of wealth, privilege, and, most importantly, consent to a physical relationship. Like Olivia’s lawyer, Kate Woodcroft, a Queen’s Counsel, rightly quotes that even in modern society, it is still hard for people to understand the concept of consent, which is evident from the fact that they live in a country where marital rape was not legally considered rape until 1991.
‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ Plot Summary
James Charles Whitehouse is an MP for the ruling Conservative party, managed by his close friend and party leader, Tom Southern. James lives in London with his wife, Sophie, a literature graduate whom he met at Oxford University, where they studied together. The couple is living a peaceful life with their two kids, Finn and Emily, until a tragedy strikes.
Five months ago, in May 2018, James started an affair with an employee, Olivia Clarissa Lytton, who worked as a parliamentary researcher in his office. Due to some guilt or some other reason, James ended the relationship on October 5th, 2018. On October 12th, a week after the affair ended, James sexually assaulted Olivia in a lift at the House of Commons, and finally, after two weeks, Olivia decided to report the case to the police.
As the series begins, only the news of the MP’s illicit affair breaks into the media, and James’ only conflict is to face the public and his wife, Sophie, who starts getting anxiety and panic attacks as soon as the truth is revealed to her. In the meantime, James’ allies, especially the PM, Tom Southern, show their support for his close friend from Oxford University and refuse to take any drastic measures against him.
James, with his wit and charm, tries to settle the dust, when suddenly, he finds out that Olivia has accused him of a sexual assault, and a QC named Kate Woodcroft has taken up her case. Soon after, James appears before the court and pleads not guilty, which prompts a court case to be initiated. In the presence of a jury, James’ lawyer, Angela Regan, and Woodcroft, discuss the minutes of the intimate event that took place on October 12th to find out whether the defendant is guilty or not.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Was James Whitehouse Guilty?
It is hard to understand wealth and privilege when you are born with it, and that was exactly the case with MP James Whitehouse. He was an arrogant narcissist who had convinced himself that he couldn’t possibly do any wrong to any person in the world. James believed that all his intimate encounters were 100 percent consensual, which isn’t exactly a lie that he had been telling the world, but more of a flawed understanding of the concept of consent itself. In Olivia’s case, he believed that because he had once shared a consensual relationship with her, he could possibly do anything with her, and it would have her consent.
Like a true politician and indeed a great one, James shamefully lied in his statement made in front of the jury and, like a vulnerable lover, expressed his feelings for Olivia to convince everyone in the court that whatever he did with her in the lift was an act of passionate romance between them, and Olivia desired it too. Again, he lied to the jury that he didn’t hear her saying the words, “not here,” and asking him to move away. He lied about a lot of other facts to protect his so-called privileged and elite status, and to everyone’s nightmare, the jury bought his lies and found him “not guilty” of the assault. All the charges against James were dropped soon after. However, his own wife, Sophie, was certain by then that her husband was nothing but a wolf hiding in a sheep’s skin, and she needed to take action against him, at least for the sake of her old friend, Holly Berry.
Who Was Holly Berry? How Was She Related To Kate Woodcroft?
Holly Berry was a literature student who studied at the same university as James and his wife, Sophie. She was Sophie’s first-year tutorial partner and a close friend who used to make notes for Sophie while, in the meantime, Sophie hung out with James. Holly was a sophisticated student who lived in her own domain, and like many other girls in the university, she had a crush on the Oxford Blues athlete, James Whitehouse.
In the university, James and his close friend, Tom Southern, were part of a social elite group called the Omertà of the Libertines. The name is suggestive enough to point out their actions, as the group was themselves involved in numerous unspeakable acts. During a party at the end of the first week in June, Tom brought heroin to a private party of the Omertà of the Libertines and shared the drugs with a friend named Alec. When James found Tom doing drugs on the terrace, he quickly snatched the stash and took Tom to his room. On their way out, while on the streets, Tom found Alec standing on the edge of the terrace, and, under the influence of the substance, he motivated Alec to jump. Alec didn’t think for a moment and did as Tom commanded. Alec died on the spot, and suddenly James decided to run away from the crime scene to save Tom from being arrested. James convinced Tom to forget the incident while, in the meantime, he got rid of the evidence, i.e., the drugs that Tom brought in.
To stay away from an inquiry and save his bright future, James decided to get an alibi for the night and suddenly remembered his girlfriend, Sophie. However, while walking toward Sophie’s room, James collided with Holly Berry, who was also under the influence of alcohol. The word “collided” was highlighted specifically in “Anatomy of a Scandal” because it triggered something inside James, after which he would often lose control of his morality and transform into some kind of beast. That night, James not only collided with Holly Berry but also tried to force himself upon her, just like he did with Olivia Lytton. He lost control, got violent, and when Holly tried to resist him and push him away, he called her the exact same words that he used for Olivia.
After the traumatic experience, Holly left the university and transferred to Liverpool, while her mother lied to everyone in the university that she had moved to Australia. She didn’t want the scandal to become public, so she drank the poisonous bile, suffocating herself from the agonizing experience, which she never discussed with anyone except an Oxford friend named Alison. That single assault tormented Holly all these years, and its effect was visible in her relationships. That probably justifies her affair with senior Richard, whom she was only dating because he was unavailable. Holly was running away from the truth and herself, as a result of which she developed some hatred for her name itself, and thus, when she moved to London, she adopted her middle name, Kate, and used her ex-husband’s surname, Woodcroft, to carve a new identity called Kate Woodcroft. On the outside, Kate and Holly Berry weren’t the same people, but on the inside, they were both struggling with the same truth or the assault.
How Did Sophie Find Out Kate’s Secret?
During the Queen vs. James Whitehouse case, an administrator from Oxford reported to the police that during his time at the university, James assaulted a girl, but the girl didn’t want to file a complaint, and thus the matter never came to light. As soon as Sophie heard about this acquisition, she recalled an incident in the university when her close friend, Holly Berry, suddenly left the university without giving any reason. Sophie started looking for Holly after that, and during the court trials, she saw Kate Woodcroft’s left-handed scribbling and color-coded notes, which was similar to the kind of style that Holly Berry used to do while she prepared notes for Sophie in the university. At first, when Sophie confronted Kate, she denied knowing any girl with the name Holly, but later, when Sophie visited Alison, she mistakenly spilled the beans.
Kate feared that if Sophie revealed her real identity to James or the press, it would end her career, but fortunately, Sophie understood her friend’s plight.
‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ Ending Explained: Was James Convicted For His Crimes? What Happened To Kate & Sophie?
James might have won the case, but eventually, he lost his family. Sophie could look through James’s lies who used to manipulate the truth as per his convenience. She believed that maybe James was raised that way, a privileged child who wasn’t told in the initial years that cheating in a simple thing like a game of monopoly was indeed unethical, and thus, Sophie didn’t want her kids to end up like their father. Her son was already taking pride in being a Whitehouse. That compelled Sophie to take the drastic step and leave James before it was too late.
It was hard for Sophie to take the step because she had lived her entire married life in James’ shadow, but soon after James’ scandal came to light, she repented that decision every day from that point on. She knew that James only knew how to use people to serve his narcissistic desires, the same way he used Sophie during college to get an alibi for Alec’s accident, and later used the same favor to gain Tom Southern’s trust.
As soon as Sophie left James, she arranged a meeting with Holly/Kate and finally asked her why she didn’t report James’ assault to the police. Kate explained that James was a privileged and honorable student at the university, and no one would have believed her. This detail was important because the same thing happened in Olivia Lytton’s case, where there was substantial evidence, yet the jury decided in favor of the charismatic MP. And it was at that point when Sophie revealed that James might be able to evade a scandal due to the blurriness of the concept of consent, but he would not be able to save himself from the accusations of being an accomplice to a murder (abetment of suicide). Sophie contacted an acquaintance in the press and informed him/her about James and Tom’s involvement in Alec’s accident and how James tampered with the evidence to protect Tom. Soon after, the police arrested James Whitehouse and Tom Southern, but their fate wasn’t revealed in the end, whether they would be convicted or not.
Fortunately, in her statement, Sophie didn’t expose Kate or her real identity, and thus, in the closing sequence of “Anatomy of a Scandal,” we see her attending the court session with a fresh demeanor. Sophie, on the other hand, moved to Sussex with her two kids to live a peaceful life away from James’ shadow.
“Anatomy of a Scandal” is a 2022 drama thriller miniseries created by Melissa James Gibson and David E. Kelley.