Claire Foy interview: ‘A Very British Scandal’
Claire Foy was very close to turning down the role of Margaret Campbell on Amazon Prime’s “A Very British Scandal,” the three-part limited series chronicling the marriage and very public divorce between Margaret and Ian Campbell, the 11th Duke of Argyll (Paul Bettany). Foy, who also served as an executive producer on this series, wondered if the role of a posh upper class duchess during the mid 20th century bore too similar resemblance to Queen Elizabeth on “The Crown,” which earned the actress two Emmys.
However, as the actress explains in an exclusive interview with Gold Derby (watch above), any worries about perceived similarities with her Emmy-winning role vanished as soon as she learned more about Margaret. “They were obviously incredibly different people and incredibly different characters with incredibly different behavior,” explains Foy. “So I hoped that the audience would go along with that.”
Foy knew very little about the real Margaret Campbell when she read the script by the show’s creator and writer Sarah Phelps. Foy argues that having such little advanced knowledge was a benefit. “I think I was pretty lucky because I had no preconception about her,” she says. “I think if I had been a different generation or had information handed down to me, I probably would have all these sorts of judgements, but I was able to read [the script] with fresh eyes on her.”
Much of the Campbells’ divorce proceedings focused on Margaret’s many affairs. The press at the time painted Margaret as a nymphomaniac and a neglectful wife and mother. Foy says that one of the show’s most important themes is the examination of the way the media holds women to a different standard than men. “What’s interesting about Margaret and Ian’s marriage is that she wasn’t doing anything that he wasn’t doing,” she explains. “It was common knowledge that he was having many affairs and she was doing the same. That was what a lot of the upper classes did. It wasn’t uncommon, but because she was a woman and she was doing it, that’s worse.”
The series does not shy away for Margaret’s own destructive impulses, including her forging a letter in order to create doubt about the paternity of Ian’s children from a previous marriage. The duchess even goes so far as to accuse her father’s much younger wife of having an affair with Ian just to gain the sympathy of the court.
However, Foy argues that Margaret’s complex nature makes the show’s impact far more poignant. “You can’t live your life doing all the right things and making the right choices all the time,” she argues. “She’s an interesting person and if we just showed good people all the time on screen, we wouldn’t really learn a lot about humanity.”