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'A Very English Scandal' Stars Who Else But A Very English Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant stars as British politician Jeremy Thorpe in the three-part BBC One miniseries, <em>A Very English Scandal. </em>It premieres in the U.S. on Amazon on June 29.
Sophie Mutevelian
BBC/Blueprint Television Ltd
Hugh Grant stars as British politician Jeremy Thorpe in the three-part BBC One miniseries, A Very English Scandal. It premieres in the U.S. on Amazon on June 29.

Hugh Grant was finishing up his studies at Oxford in 1970s, when the scandal about British politician Jeremy Thorpe broke. "It was a source of much amusement and sort of schoolboy giggling at the time," Grant recalls.

Thorpe, also an Oxford man, was a savvy progressive, expected to make history as the leader of Britain's Liberal Party. But Norman Scott, a former groom and aspiring model, came forward to say he'd had a sexual relationship with the popular politician. Thorpe was later accused of hiring a hitman to murder Scott.

Thorpe was acquitted. He died in 2014, still denying the love affair and the murder plot. His life story is now the subject of a three-part miniseries called A Very English Scandal, which debuts in the U.S. on Amazon on June 29. The series stars Ben Whishaw as Scott and Grant as Thorpe.

"Frankly, I think we all expected members of the establishment such as Jeremy Thorpe to probably have some secret in their closet," Grant says.

Gay men lived in fear of exposure, Grant explains. "One of the things that the TV show sort of explores is how difficult it was for men in Britain in the early '60s if they were gay — you know, it was a criminal offense."

Interview Highlights

On whether Thorpe loved Scott

I believe he did. ... With Norman Scott, at the beginning [of their relationship], it did last almost a year, and I personally think that there was real love and affection. ... Men like Jeremy Thorpe, they had to live their life without the chance to really experience full-blown love in the physical way that they would like to, and that's a great sadness.

On Thorpe being the subject of public scrutiny, an experience that Grant has shared

He was undergoing unimaginable stress. You know, he was the leader of the Liberal Party. ... At that time [he] was married, he had a child. He was the most talked-about politician in Britain. He was a star and everyone thought he was extraordinary. And permanently nagging at him was this possibility of exposure of his secret. ... To feel the net of the law closing in on him slowly — the stress must have been absolutely unendurable, and I was able to use some of my own experience there, for sure.

On the generational difference between Scott and Thorpe

It was sort of dubbed the trial of the century. ... Thorpe's accuser, this outwardly self-confessed homosexual, Norman Scott, who was sort of camp and outrageous — someone that the establishment would expect to be sneered at and laughed at in court — actually captures the court's attention and admiration and is sort of admired by the public, by the press. ... It's a moment at which you sort of finally see the last flicker of the establishment die. The future for Britain is men like him, and the past is men like me.

On whether he believes Thorpe was telling the truth — that he never had a physical relationship with Scott, and he never plotted against him

I went to meet a lot of Thorpe's friends, relations and political colleagues before I made the program and I didn't meet one who would say that. There were some who said they felt he was innocent of the murder attempt and that he'd been misunderstood — and that was always his great defense in court ... it was just rhetoric, he didn't meanit, and his friends took him much too literally and tried to organize a murder. Some defend him like that. But, on the whole, the impression I got from the people who knew him was that he probably was capable of this as a very desperate man.

On enjoying success at this stage of his career

In the past ... I was lucky to make some commercial hits — but I am not sure that very many people wanted to give me prizes. Now, suddenly, in my old, gray years it's the other way around. ... Maybe the parts actually suit me better now that I'm older and uglier.

Sarah Handel and Barbara Campbell produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

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Corrected: June 23, 2018 at 10:00 PM MDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Ben Whishaw's last name as Wishaw.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.