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Claire Foy goes make-up free as she wraps up in knitwear to grab coffee in London

The first instalment of A Very British Scandal aired on BBC One on Sunday evening.

And ahead of its debut, Claire Foy, 37 – who stars in the drama series – went make-up free and wrapped up in pretty knitwear to grab coffee in London.

While out in the capital last Wednesday, the British actress teamed a beige roll neck jumper with a baby pink beanie hat.  

Low-key: Claire Foy, 37, went make-up free and wrapped up in pretty knitwear to grab coffee in London, last Wednesday

Claire layered up with a longline burgundy check coat as she did some last minute Christmas shopping.

The Crown star wore strolled along in cropped light-wash jeans and black biker boots.

She carried her belongings in her much loved £2,000 Givenchy Mystic handbag, which was strung across her body.

Claire’s strawberry blonde tresses were styled into loose waves and she wore a facemask around her chin. 

Stylish! The British actress teamed a beige roll neck jumper with a baby pink beanie hat and carried her belongings in her much loved £2,000 Givenchy Mystic handbag

Stylish! The British actress teamed a beige roll neck jumper with a baby pink beanie hat and carried her belongings in her much loved £2,000 Givenchy Mystic handbag

Queen Claire is shockingly good as the disgraced duchess… and notorious real-life divorce case makes for a gripping BBC drama: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS gives A Very British Scandal a five-star thumbs-up 

A Very British Scandal 

Rating:

The first time we glimpse Claire Foy as the forlornly imperious Duchess of Argyll, she is a prisoner in the back of her own limousine, surrounded by a public that hates her.

Foy plays her in later life, both glamorous and sordid, in A Very British Scandal (BBC1).

This richly detailed, three-part costume drama which continues tonight portrays her second marriage to the Duke of Argyll – and the notorious divorce battle that ended it.

It’s a pity the drama does not have time to explain the years of fame that came before her disgrace, and which shaped her. 

Sensational: The first time we glimpse Claire Foy as the forlornly imperious Duchess of Argyll, she is a prisoner in the back of her own limousine, surrounded by a public that hates her

Sensational: The first time we glimpse Claire Foy as the forlornly imperious Duchess of Argyll, she is a prisoner in the back of her own limousine, surrounded by a public that hates her

In 1930, as 17-year-old debutante Margaret Whigham entering London society, she was regarded as the most beautiful woman in England. 

Dozens of cuttings in the Daily Mail archives describe her appearance at every ball – her dresses, her jewellery, the young men jostling around her. Her photo appears alongside each report.

When American-raised heiress Margaret was 14, her father George would drive from their Ascot home to Eton, to round up good-looking boys for her tennis parties. 

The young truants, sons of earls and viscounts, used to hide under a rug in the back of his Rolls-Royce until they were off school premises.

Mr and Mrs Whigham believed relentless socialising was the best way to cure Margaret’s stammer, which they feared might turn her into a recluse. Perhaps it is not surprising that, as an adult, the only way she knew how to express affection was through sex.

After she married American golfer Charles Sweeny, Cole Porter counted her among the world’s greatest glories. His number You’re The Top namechecked the Colosseum, the feet of Fred Astaire… and Mrs Sweeny.

Eight months after her wedding, the nation held its breath as she fought for her life, following a disastrous stillbirth. 

What few knew then was that she had been pregnant before, aged just 15 – the result of a love affair with a teenage David Niven. To convey all that is an impossible task but Foy manages to hint at so much – not the detail, but the substance.

Divorced from Sweeny when we first meet her in the late 1940s, she is plainly a racy celebrity, one who adores predatory male attention but lacks any instinct for self-preservation. The type, to be harsh, is familiar today.

It will be plain to most viewers, when the raffish war hero Captain Ian Campbell (Paul Bettany) approaches her on a train, that he is dangerous. All she can see is how sexy that danger seems.

She is wearing a triple string of pearls around her neck – a piece of jewellery that will acquire extra significance later.

Incredible: In 1930, as 17-year-old debutante Margaret Whigham entering London society, she was regarded as the most beautiful woman in England

Incredible: In 1930, as 17-year-old debutante Margaret Whigham entering London society, she was regarded as the most beautiful woman in England

He is still married, yet he has no qualms about asking her father (Richard McCabe) for her hand… and a loan. Campbell is on the make and Margaret is blind to it even when she is writing cheques to his creditors.

Bettany plays the duke with an absolute absence of sympathy. Second World War veteran or not, he is without any redeeming grace or even charm. The man is summed up when we see him at his hobby, collecting butterflies and mounting them on a board with a pin through the thorax.

The full depth of his cruelty comes as a shock, though. He has no intention of entirely ditching his American second wife, Louise (Sophia Myles). 

Everyone knows her as Oui Oui, because she agrees to everything – though Margaret childishly calls her Wee Wee. Campbell expects his new duchess to underwrite the castle restorations, for the benefit of his sons with Oui-Oui. 

‘Here’s a thought, Margaret,’ he tells her, mocking her stammer with drunken nastiness. ‘Pay the b-b-bills – it’s what you’re for.’

That attack wounds her, because it exposes Margaret’s deepest fears about herself. It even gives shape to the viewers’ unconscious thoughts. What is she for?

Iconic role: The Crown star Claire Foy has taken on the role of the Duchess of Argyll, Margaret Campbell, in new BBC period drama A Very British Scandal (pictured in the role)

Memorable Royal: The Duchess of Argyll, Margaret Campbell, is pictured in 1961

Iconic role: Claire Foy has branded the Duchess of Argyll, Margaret Campbell the ‘first victim of revenge porn’ (pictured as the Duchess on the left, and the Duchess on the right in 1961)

Her debutante years are 20 years behind her and belong to a different, pre-war world. Her pleasures are vapid, her friends are sarcastic. 

One compares her to a sex-addicted chimpanzee. Even her mother (Phoebe Nicholls) has nothing but contempt for her: ‘My daughter, an adulteress, a round-heel – the squalor of it.’

That word ’round-heel’ sums up the pious hypocrisy of the era. It is 1920s slang, for a woman who topples onto her back at the slightest touch. 

During her divorce from the duke, she became the most despised woman in Britain, denounced in the courts and from every pulpit as an adulteress. Her husband accused her of having dozens of lovers: He estimated the total at 88.

This drama captures that sense of national outrage in those opening shots, as the duchess’s car is besieged on a London street by onlookers who hurl abuse and spit at the windows.

With a rigid poise that mixes froideur with fear, Foy makes Margaret both defiant and pitiful. She struck a lonely figure many times during the first hour, whether trying to entertain her step-children or plunging into a one-night stand after a party, but she never looked more alone than when the public turned on her.

Claire Foy as Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, in the new BBC drama A Very British Scandal

Claire Foy as Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, in the new BBC drama A Very British Scandal

Claire Foy is shockingly good for this role, the heiress without purpose, because we are so used to seeing her as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown. The Queen epitomises everything selfless, noble and honest about a traditional ruling class.

But strip away the sense of duty and decency, and what you are left with is the Duchess of Argyll – riches without real value, privilege without a raison d’etre.

Sex is all she is good for. Those scenes are filmed tastefully, or at least without too much emphasis on exploitation. 

Foy has said how uncomfortable they made her feel: ‘It’s grim, the grimmest thing you can do. You do feel exploited when you are a woman and you are having to perform fake sex on screen. You feel exposed.’

She radiates that discomfort and shame, until we feel it ourselves. For the Duchess of Argyll, the sex was not fake and neither was the humiliation. 

A Very British Scandal continues on BBC1 on Monday and Tuesday at 9pm.

The life of the Duchess of Argyll

December 1, 1912: Born Ethel Margaret Whigham to Scottish millionaire parents, and raised in New York

Age 15: Father made her have an abortion after falling pregnant following a holiday romance

Age 17: Announced her engagement to the 7th Earl of Warwick, Charles Greville

Age 20: Her romance with Greville was short-lived, marrying American golfer Charles Sweeny in West London. She suffered eight miscarriages and welcomed two children

Age 38: Wed Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll 

Age 50: Their bitter divorce played out in court. The Duke shared photo evidence of the Duchess naked with another man in her flat, and listed up to 88 men he believed she had slept with during their marriage 

Age 80: Died from a fall while living at a nursing home 

 

 

 

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