Profumo for MeToo generation: BBC drama reinterpret 1960s scandal

Profumo for the #MeToo generation: BBC drama tries to reinterpret 1960s scandal about Christine Keeler through ‘female gaze’ of today

  • The Trial of Christine Keeler, a six-part drama, is set to be released later this year
  • It follows 19-year-old Keeler after she is caught up in the Profumo affair scandal
  • She famously had concurrent sexual relationships with secretary state of war John Profumo and soviet naval attache Eugene Ivanov
  • Production team is dominated by women headed-up by director Andrea Harkin 

Filming is already underway for a BBC drama that will reinterpret the 1960s Profumo affair for the MeToo generation. 

The six-part series, The Trial of Christine Keeler, is set to reassess the former model’s experiences through the ‘female gaze’.

The eponymous female lead will be played by Sophie Cookson.

Filming is already underway for a BBC drama that will reinterpret the 1960s Profumo affair for the MeToo generation. Pictured: Sophie Cookson (left) playing Christine Keeler and Ellie Bamber (right) assuming the role of her friend Mandy Rice-Davies

She will assume the role of the 19-year-old who had concurrent sexual relationships with the secretary state of war John Profumo as well as a soviet naval attache Eugene Ivanov.

When Keeler died in 2017, obituary writers were quick to describe her as being a showgirl who was prone to making wild claims about her part in the affair. 

But Cookson said that she wanted viewers to see Keeler as the troubled teenager who became a ‘wonderfully flawed heroine’.   

The six-part drama, The Trial of Christine Keeler, is set to reassess the former model’s experiences through the ‘female gaze’

The production team is also predominantly dominated by women and is headed-up by director Andrea Harkin, producer Rebecca Ferguson and screenwriter Amanda Coe. 

‘Its not that men can’t direct women but there is a definite distinction between the male and female gaze,’ Ms Ferguson said speaking to The Times.

James Norton has been cast as Stephen Ward the osteopath who introduced Keeler to Profumo.

He spoke to the Mipcom trade show in Cannes and said: ‘It’s imperative that we go back and look at these moments in history in light of the TimesUp and MeToo movements…

‘It’s also far more interesting.’ 

Ben Miles will portray the Conservative minister with Emilia Fox as his wife Valerie.

And Ellie Bamber will play Keeler’s friend Mandy Rice-Davies. 

There have been several previous adaptations of the Profumo affair including West End musical titled Stephen Ward and the 1989 film Scandal.   

Who was Christine Keeler and what was the Profumo affair?

Born in Middlesex, Christine Keeler moved to London as a teenager and began working at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho. 

It was there she met Dr Stephen Ward, a high-flying London osteopath and fixer who ‘procured women’ for leading members of the Establishment, who introduced her to Conservative Minister John Profumo while at a party thrown by Lord and Lady Astor in 1961.

The pair hit the headlines after seven shots were fired at Ward’s house in a quiet Marylebone mews by a jilted boyfriend of Keeler a year later in December 1962.

Ms Keeler’s other lovers have included A-Team actor George Peppard, legendary womaniser Warren Beatty and Prisoner of Zenda star Douglas Fairbanks Jr

Ms Keeler, pictured, met Conservative minister Profumo – 27 years her senior – after leaving her home in Middlesex and working at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho

Ms Keeler, pictured right, in a vehicle with her friend Mandy Rice-Davies, who was also implicated in the scandal surrounding the affair

It emerged the then 19-year-old Keeler had been sleeping with former Secretary of State for War John Profumo, then 48, and at the same time a handsome Russian spy Evgeny Ivanov.

But when the news broke, Profumo lied to the House of Commons about his affair. He was soon found out and Keeler sold her story to the News of The World for £23,000.

In June 1963, he quit in disgrace, amid allegations Keeler had been asked by Ivanov to discover from the War Minister when the West Germans might receive U.S. nuclear missiles to be stationed on their soil.

Profumo had been a rising star of the Tory Party, close to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, a favoured visitor at Buckingham Palace, a war hero and the dashing husband of actress Valerie Hobson, one of the great beauties of her day.

Ms Keeler, whose other lovers have included A-Team actor George Peppard, legendary womaniser Warren Beatty and Prisoner of Zenda star Douglas Fairbanks Jr, said in an interview years later that the Establishment was far more interested in painting it as a sex scandal and chose to ignore whispered claims of a widespread spying network. 

Christine died aged 75 in December 2017.

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