The Netflix British miniseries ‘Anatomy of a Scandal,’ now streaming, gets automatic interest casting Sienna Miller as a glittering Parliament political star’s wronged wife. Miller is a survivor of an international scandal years ago when Jude Law, her fiancé, carried on with his children’s nanny. In ‘Anatomy’ Rupert Friend (‘Homeland’) is the husband accused not just of having an affair with a junior member of his staff but raping her as well. The 2 spoke in a Zoom interview. These are excerpts.
Q: What do both of you think it is about courtroom dramas and scandal that seem to be perennial attention-getters?
RUPERT FRIEND: I think it’s completely addictive because I suppose it’s people’s downfall. I think inherent in the word scandal is the idea that you’ve projected a kind of moral bulletproof coating — and then we all find out that you’re not
SIENNA MILLER: I think if you’re setting something in a courtroom, you know that a crime has been committed. That’s already an intriguing place to begin. And there is something specific about an English court with all the pomp and ceremony, wigs and robes, that’s just entertaining.
Q: Sienna since you’ve got this Anglo-American identity [born in NYC, raised in the UK], are you more comfortable with your American roles or your British roles? Or you see no difference?
SM: I’ve spent a lot of time in the American side of things and very rarely been British because I love hiding behind roles and accents. But I’m really happy to be spending some time playing English people because obviously that’s what I know. I am intrigued by America — and always have been. I’ve always felt kind of resolutely British because this is where I grew up. But I love the freedom in America and the possibility of living there and I know that Rupert feels the same way; we both live in New York. That being said, there is something really psychologically interesting about an Englishwoman like this.
Q: We have here the idea in Parliament of a great star of his party, a close friend of the Prime Minister. Do either of you have political friends? Have you been to Downing Street for receptions?
SM: I did get invited to Downing Street and I did go, as you would.
RF: I’ve never been there. And I don’t know any politicians. So there’s that.
Q: When this starts, you see these two privileged white people and we’re in an era where we want diversity and representation and I wonder: Can white, privileged characters get any kind of sympathy for their problems in today’s world? Can they get a fair shake?
SM: ‘Do they deserve it?’ is more interesting I think. If you’re a politician, you’re projecting a certain morality on the country in which you’re representing. There is a duty that you have to be a sort of upward-standing person who walks the walk that you are enforcing on other people. Certainly you’re an example, if you’re a politician.
RF: I completely concur. The idea of seeking sympathy is not what any of us [the cast] set out to do. We’re telling a story about some pretty flawed human beings — or at least one very flawed human being — and in some sense, it’s the consequences of that unexamined life that I in the end found illuminating.
Q: I wonder if either of you have a favorite courtroom drama?
RF: I like ‘A Few Good Men.’ His [Jack Nicholson’s] lower jaw seems to move independently of his head. Like he’s a nutcracker.
SM: I’ve got one! ‘The Staircase.’ Also ‘Murder on a Sunday Morning.’
Q: Finally, I was thinking they’re there throughout the whole series. They’re frequently part of the production. But you have these children running around. How is that for the two of you when you’ve got months of filming with these kids under 10?
RF: They was they were lovely humans and very funny and boisterous. The production protected them very carefully from the actual subject matter that we were dealing with. We didn’t use the R word around them. We didn’t give them context as to where Daddy or Mommy had been when we came back to the house for a scene with them. We left that choice to their parents. So in the end, we just got to do the fun stuff of goofing around with them. And they were lovely. Both.
MAGICAL FAIRY TALE FUN Pierce Brosnan is having a high time as France’s King Louis XIV in the romantic-comedic magic-infused fairy tale ‘The King’s Daughter’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, Universal, PG). Brosnan’s casting is one clue that this ‘Daughter’ isn’t to be taken realistically in any way. His French Sun King, charmingly if completely self-centered, is set on living forever and to do that he will sacrifice a captive mermaid (Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing who authorities made ‘disappear’ for several years) during a solar eclipse in return for perpetual life. Despite the life or death conceits, this is one whacked out, jolly, fast-paced riff of a classic fairy tale. Brosnan never stops flipping his magnificent mane of hair as he ambles around Versailles with his nasty doctor (Pablo Schreiber) and Roman Catholic cleric confessor (the late William Hurt) always in attendance. The King has brought his daughter (Kaya Scodelario) home from the miserable convent where she’s been stashed since birth. Now of age, she’s been summoned for a Royal marriage of convenience. She has no idea she’s a Royal. Julie Andrews with her dulcet tones and British inflections is the perfect narrator for a tale that frequently unfolds in a gorgeous grotto beneath the Royal Residences where a stalwart Benjamin Walker guards the sea creature they’ve captured. Bonus: One deleted scene & cast reflections.
MONSTER HIT A box-office phenomenon ‘Spider-Man No Way Home’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, Columbia, PG-13) established Tom Holland – Peter Parker aka Spider-Man – as top dog, officially Hollywood’s No. 1 Box-office Star. This Spidey outing is set in the Marvel Multiverse, enlists Dr. Strange himself (Benedict Cumberbatch) and manages to revive and display a trio of Spideys and memorable villains of Spidey’s past. The cast includes Zendaya, Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei. The 80+ minutes of Bonus ranges from alternate reality Easter eggs, behind-the-scenes featurettes, 2 special panels – 1 for villains, the other for heroes, 3 stories from the Daily Bugle and previsualizations for 2 stunt scenes.
PASS THE GRAVY A hideous, gloomy apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown is the sole setting for ‘The Humans’ (Blu-ray + Digital, A24 Lionsgate, R), Stephen Karam’s adaptation of his hit play, set on a miserable Thanksgiving for a miserable extended family. Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell are the long-married, long-suffering parents. Amy Schuler is a grieving lesbian daughter. Beanie Feldstein is their other daughter married to Steven Yuen. It’s their apartment. And senile but breathing is the grandmere (June Squibb). Karam navigates this encounter with determined flair and impeccable performances. Bonus: Karam’s audio commentary as writer-director, outtakes and a Making of.
THE END? REALLY? Johnny Knoxville has said it’s over, the end, good-bye to his masochistic frenzy of a franchise with ‘Jackass Forever’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, Paramount, R). Can that be? This would seem to be the ‘Jackass’ genital installment with a continued fascination and focus on smashing what were once dubbed privates but are now anything but. The Blu-ray boasts nearly 40 minutes of new stunts NOT SEEN in theaters. Among the many entries — whose titles offer a vivid preview of what might be in store: Tarantula Bite, Face Your Rear, Poopies Only Wipes Twice, Wee Man Throws Zach Under the Bus, Fire in the Hotel and Plug and Arrow. Naturally and necessarily, there is a WARNING: These are professional masochists so ‘Neither you nor your dumb little buddies should attempt anything from this movie.’
POST MORTEM As a pandemic entry ‘Family Squares’ (DVD, Screen Media, R) tells its familial story via a host of name actors communicating on Zoom, Facetime and phone calls in writer-director Stephanie Laing’s ingenious approach to COVID-mandated quarantine isolation. The matriarch Mabel Worth has died and she’s left a video urging her loved ones to heal their broken relationships, no matter how awkward. Among the large cast: Ann Dowd as grandma’s late in life partner, Margo Martindale, Henry Winkler, Judy Greer, Billy Magnussen, ‘Veep’ veterans Sam Richardson and Timothy Simons, Elsie Fisher of ‘Eighth Grade’ and June Squibb (‘Nebraska’) as Mabel. Rob Reiner does the narration.
OSCAR NOMINEE Oscar-nominated this year as one of the 5 Best Documentary features, ‘Writing with Fire’ (DVD, Music Box, Not Rated) is an exhilarating look at female empowerment in northern India. The team at ‘Waves of News’ is an all-woman enterprise and India’s only female-led news outlet. In a nation still ruled by caste and gender, these reporters are from the lowest rung of the country’s caste system. We see how the paper changes into digital from print and how smart phones lead the way in investigative journalism. Here the voiceless are finally being heard via the women of Khabar Lahariya and redefining what it means to be powerful. Bonus: ‘Firemaking: The Story of Writing with Fire,’ a filmmaker Q&A from the DOC NYC premiere. In Hindi with English subtitles.
‘80s SPACE SCI-FI As billionaires out-do each other in a race into space, ‘Starflight One’ (Blu-ray, MGM Code Red, Not Rated) from way back in the previous century – it was 1983! — took Lee Majors aka ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ to the world’s first hypersonic flight. Naturally, it wouldn’t be a major special effects thriller if everything went okay with the high-tech transport jet, able to buzz by at super speed. But best-laid plans are foiled by a stray missile and ‘Starflight One’ becomes ‘The Plane That Couldn’t Land.’ The disaster pic, now with a brand new 2K Master, is most notable for the participation – and vision – of special effects guru John Dykstra (‘Star Wars,’ ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’). The supporting cast includes ‘The Lost Weekend’ Oscar winner Ray Milland, supermodel turned actress Lauren Hutton and TV’s Barney Miller Hal Linden.
WOODY STRODE! If anyone needs a career re-evaluation it’s awesome Woody Strode who became a Black star in the late ‘50s-early 60s with key roles in ‘Spartacus’ and John Ford’s ‘Sergeant Rutledge.’ A WWII Army veteran and among the first Black football players in the NFL, Strode paid the rent wrestling professionally. He’s the villain here in this 1984 action film ‘The Violent Breed’ (Blu-ray, MGM Code Red, R), now in a brand new 2K Master. Strode stars opposite dependable, distinctive Henry Silva in what is basically an Italian production co-written and directed by Fernando Di Leo.
AULD ACQUAINTANCE With a brand new 2K Master the 1980 horror entry ‘New Year’s Evil’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R) has never looked so vividly … bloody. It’s, yes, New Year’s and a maniac is slaughtering beautiful young women every hour on the hour to the countdown of a new year – with a particular interest in TV hostess Blaze (top-billed Roz Kelly). Can you guess who is the maniac? The cops certainly can’t. Special Features: newly commissioned art by Vince Evans, an audio commentary with director Emmett Alston & interviews with the cinematographer and cast members Kip Niven and Grant Cramer (he’s Second Generation Hollywood; his mother Terry Moore starred in ‘Mighty Joe Young,’ ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’ & ‘Peyton Place’).