Text: Dina Klyucharyova, author of the telegram channel One Oscar For Leo
“When I met John ProfumoWe both succumbed to the most natural instinct in the world - the love of middle-aged men in power for penniless young girls. Is this a crime? " - this is how Christine Keeler describes her relationship with the married British Minister of War, John Profumo, in the new BBC miniseries. Their relationship did not last long, but surfaced in the press and shocked the entire conservative British society of the 1960s, and also provoked a change of government by then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. We tell how a girl from the working class found herself in the center of a political scandal and why we now look at these events in a completely different way.
First, a little history. By the time of the events, Kristen Keeler was nineteen years old, she moved to London from a small town and moonlighted as best she could - a model, saleswoman, burlesque dancer. Once in a nightclub, Stephen Ward, a courteous gentleman and her future patron, drew attention to her. In those years, Ward was a fashionable osteopathic doctor in secular circles, but his informal practice brought him the greatest income - he was engaged in pimping (if not tougher), introducing respectable men to young girls. At one of the parties in 1961, Ward brought Keeler and Profumo together, who later entered into a relationship. At the same time, Keeler had a connection with another Ward acquaintance, the Soviet diplomat Yevgeny Ivanov, at about the same time, whom British intelligence hoped to lure as a double agent.
The government did not approve of Profumo's communication with Ward and his dubious circle of acquaintances and recommended that contact be cut off. He cut the connection with Keeler, and Christine switched to other men - musicians Lucky Gordon from Jamaica and Johnny Edgecomb from Antigua. Both were aggressive and jealous owners, stalking and attacking her even after the end of the relationship, and one such incident made it to the press. Newspapers became interested in the model's story, and Keeler and her close friend had a lot to tell - including about their high-ranking exes. Christine first tried to sell her story at a higher price, then - to demand money for silence from Profumo himself, then she completely disappeared from the horizon. But the scandal still surfaced and turned into a real sheetstorm: Profumo at first denied it, but then nevertheless admitted his connection with Keeler and abdicated his post, the government, which allowed such a situation in its circles, was declared not worthy of trust, Ward was convicted of pimping, and Keeler painted in the press with such bright colors, shifting all the moral blame for what happened and portraying her as such a vicious person that she could not come to her senses for the rest of her life.
This story was repeatedly shifted to an artistic mood: in 1989 the film "Scandal" was released with John Hurt, Ian McKellen and Bridget Fonda, later Andrew Lloyd Webber directed the musical "Stephen Ward", and Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield sang about the events in the song " Nothing Has Been Proved. " The Profumo case is also mentioned in passing in the last episode of the second season of the Crown series. But all these versions viewed the scandal from a male point of view, and in the BBC miniseries, for the first time, the main figure in the story, Christine Keeler, received the floor. Unsurprisingly, the adaptation of the story for television was done primarily by a female cast: screenwriter Amanda Coe and directors Andrea Harkin and Leanne Welham.
Coe has been thinking about this project for a long time, and received the green light on it in 2017, when the whole world discussed the behavior of Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement.Coe decided it was time to give a second wind to a half-forgotten episode from British history, draw parallels between the cases of Stephen Ward and Jeffrey Epstein, talk about the scandal on behalf of a woman and demonstrate how blatantly outdated in 2020 public victim blaming, racism, sexism and patriarchal installation, as well as raise the topic of class stratification.
The main character is played by Sophie Cookson ("Kingsman: The Secret Service"), and Christine Keeler in her performance does not look like a victim - rather an assertive and outspoken girl ahead of her prim time. Keeler had a poor and very difficult childhood - no wonder she wanted to say goodbye to him forever. Her father left the family early, the girl was malnourished, experienced sexual abuse from her stepfather and bullying by his friends, at the age of sixteen she gave birth to a premature baby who died six days later. Technically, at the time of her relationship with the forty-year-old Profumo, she was still a teenager. But she knew what she wanted and soberly assessed her capabilities. She loved sex and partying with the rich and famous, and sexuality was the only card she could play in those circumstances - and the series, without judging, shows her pragmatism.
Cookson believes that Keeler was portrayed in the press of those times as almost a witch, although in reality she was only a teenager with a difficult past. “She was finally given a voice. It is not easy. She is an impeccable heroine, punchy, with her own opinion and not wanting to be crushed by men. " In the series, this is noticeable: she steadfastly endures all the hardships that fall on her lot, and does not give herself offense, despite the fact that she lives in an atmosphere of toxic patriarchy and endless condemnations - for ties with men of African descent, for ties with politicians, for her typical appeal. The ex-boyfriend, in a fit of jealousy, punches her in the face, and then declares: "Look what you provoke me into!" Even Ward (played by James Norton of War and Peace and McMafia), who is seemingly benevolent to Christine, is disgustingly condescending to her as a "kid." “Money isn't everything, kiddo,” Ward tells her, denouncing her commercialism. “You just grew up in abundance,” Keeler retorts.
John Profumo in The Christine Keeler Case is played by Ben Miles (known for his role as Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret's lover in The Crown), flawlessly reincarnating as a slimy, powerful, wealthy and class-privileged type. It is indicative that the tabloids, savoring the scandal, practically did not condemn Profumo for his connection with a young girl and portrayed him as a respectable respectable family man forced to resign from service due to unfortunate circumstances. But Keeler was portrayed as a kind of fam fatal and an insidious seductress, guilty of all the troubles of the country.
“She had no idea how to behave in the middle of the media storm that raged around her. But I really admire her. Those powerful men did not expect girls to have a voice of their own. They could have avoided a scandal if they had just treated women with human respect,”says the showrunner of the project, Amanda Coe, of Keeler. According to the stories of her son Simour Platt, Christine suffered from the label of a "libertine" all her life, she could not stand being reminded of the events of the past, but did not like when she was exposed as a victim. Keeler passed away in 2017 when production of the show had just begun, and did not have time to see him, but Platt is confident that the image of the self-confident and determined girl, as Keeler looks in the series, his mother would have liked.