Duchess shot down by ‘A Very British Scandal’

During the trial, the Duke submitted a list of 88 men he said the Duchess slept with during their marriage, as well as Polaroids he stole from her that showed the Duchess performing oral sex on a stranger whose head was out of frame. .

Ruling in favor of the Duke to grant a divorce in 1963, the judge said the Duchess was a “completely promiscuous woman” who had engaged in “disgusting sexual activity to satisfy a degraded sexual appetite”. Details of the ‘Headless Man’ photos were happily written about in British newspapers, which covered the case for months. Margaret the glittering socialite became Margaret “the dirty duchess”.

For the rest of her life, she squandered the fortune she inherited from her father in a series of unsuccessful lawsuits and questionable investments. Her personal relationships didn’t fare much better: she had a falling out with a girl from her first marriage and several of her friends. The Duchess died in poverty at the age of 80 in a London retirement home. The first hymn of his funeral, in 1993, began thus: “Dear Lord and father of humanity, forgive our follies”.

Sarah Phelps, who wrote the screenplay for ‘A Very British Scandal’, said the Duchess’s case and the media furore surrounding it represented ‘the end of an era’. It was “the birth of a different kind of journalism and a way to write about sex and scandal in a very, very lustful way,” she said. And it set the stage for later media portrayals of Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse and Meghan Markle — “that meanness and anger that’s directed at women in the public eye,” she said.

When the initial outrage died down, the Duchess remained the subject of sneering innuendo for decades. Smiling men posed for photos next to the boarding sign of a Scottish boat that bore her name: ‘Queue here for the Duchess of Argyll’.

Viewers today will have more sympathy for the Duchess, who now looks like a victim of ‘slut-shaming’ and the non-consensual sharing of her photos as ‘revenge porn’. It’s unlikely that many viewers will judge her for a sex act that some women’s magazines are now offering advice on performance. Yet they might still struggle to get close to the Duchess, whom Foy plays as an arrogant and scheming snob.

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