A very British scandal: tune in when it comes to sex, scandal and high fashion
She was the woman who once – literally – stopped traffic when crowds gathered to see her wedding dress. Thirty years later, in 1963, her sex life dominated the headlines when she endured a very public (and scandalous) divorce lawsuit. Now Margaret, Duchess of Argyll is the subject of BBC One’s Boxing Day drama. A very British scandal, which revolves around the process and the accompanying media circus. Claire Foy plays the Duchess, Paul Bettany her Duke, and while they both do outstanding performances, their incredible costumes almost overshadow them.
Paul Bettany and Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal
For Ian Fulcher, the show’s costume designer, it was never his intention to simply imitate Margaret’s outfits. Instead, he says, he was looking for the “essence” of her, which is evident in the tailored silhouettes, the few animal prints and the precious fabrics made of silk and Venetian wool. “I always kept the silhouette very figure-hugging because the point was that it was strengthened in its sexuality,” says Fulcher. If that sounds very modern, it’s because this story is one for our time.
Margaret in the wedding dress that stopped the traffic
The climax of the drama is when the Duke of Argyll initiates divorce proceedings against his wife after stealing her diaries, letters, and some explicit photos, including one in which she had sex with an unknown man. This led to a national scandal that has been predictably dominated by sexist attitudes towards female sexuality – attitudes that have not entirely disappeared from today’s society. This case is often viewed as one of the very earliest examples of revenge porn, something that is gaining traction in society – last year the UK revenge porn helpline had its busiest year on record, and the number of pictures it has taken busy increased by up to 60%.
Claire Foy as Duchess of Argyll
“You could go from the most beautiful woman stopping traffic to a penniless death in a nursing home and people will still call you the blow-job duchess,” says Sarah Phelps, the show’s writer. “Women are held by different standards all the time. But I’ve also thought a lot about Meghan Markle, especially in light of how much the modern press addresses her all the time and compares her to Kate Middleton. Why are [these women] considered fair game just because they are in public? ‘
The Duchess’s defiance in the face of such a scandal is very much reflected in her clothes. It is consistently clear that her clothing – from her high-waisted trousers to gorgeous silk blouses to her impeccably tailored suits – is her armor that protects her from the external forces she fights so hard against.
Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in 1955
During the six-week shoot, there were 85 costume changes for Claire Foy alone, according to Fulcher, all of which were custom-made for her except for the knitwear, which was discovered in vintage stores. “She sticks out two fingers,” says Fulcher. “She’s sexy and she’s looked down on at times. But why? We should accept sex. ‘
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