We talked to the writer Sarah Vaughan about her famous ‘best-seller’ and the luxurious adaptation in the form of a miniseries that Netflix premieres this Friday, the 15th
Sarah Vaughn she wrote fiction as a child, but by puberty she felt her imagination evaporate. And she didn’t try again until the week she turned forty. “I had to leave my position as a journalist in 2008 due to problems with my second pregnancy,” the writer explains by video call. “For a while, I was ‘freelance’, but I hated being. In the end I reached an agreement with my husband: he would support me while I wrote a novel and found a publisher within a maximum period of a year.”
Out of the agreement came a (published) novel about motherhood and the absurd quest for perfection, ‘The art of the perfect cake’which was followed by the here unpublished, but very sold in France, ‘The farm at the edge of the world’. But our interviewee didn’t really know she was going in the right direction until the international success of ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ (Roca Editorial), a dark judicial thriller in which he invested everything he learned during her years as a political correspondent for ‘The Guardian’. On Friday, the 15th, its miniseries adaptation premieres on Netflix, with hitmaker David E. Kelley (‘Big little lies’, ‘The undoing’) as developer.
Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley of ‘Downton Abbey’) has landed what Vaughan considers “the best character I have ever written”: Kate Woodcraft, an experienced jurist, highly specialized in the prosecution of sexual crimes, who is serving as prosecutor in the case against James Whitehouse (Rupert Friend, from ‘Homeland’), Secretary of State for the British Government and a close friend of the Prime Minister. Whitehouse is accused of raping his parliamentary investigator Olivia Lytton (Naomi Scott), who had been, on the other hand, his infatuated lover for five months. Sienna Miller shines like never before (or, in fact, like almost always) in the role of the wife of the questioned man, with or without the whole reason?
Boris Johnson’s inspiration
Although reading the book and watching the series one can think of that golden age of the legal and/or erotic ‘thriller’ that was the nineties, the main inspiration for this plot was reality. And the dream. Vaughan explains: “I hadn’t really read legal thrillers. As a journalist, I’m always inspired by news. It was very important a column from the ‘Telegraph’ about a soccer player here [Ched Evans] who had been declared innocent after being sentenced to prison for the rape of a 19-year-old girl. The columnist, Allison Pearson, recalled hearing young women say that if the raped woman went to her hotel room, she would not expect to play Scrabble. and i thought of how much women judge other women’s sexuality. That night I dreamed the wickers of the plot”.
Another great inspiration was Boris Johnson, whom he had interviewed in 2004 about his affair with Petronella Wyatt. For lying about that mess (and not for having it) he was fired from the conservative executive. “At the time,” Vaughan explains, “I was 32 years old and I think she was still a bit naive. When I spoke with Johnson, I was struck by the fact that he did not feel sorry for having lied; that he had no remorse, even more so being such a public figure“.
His role in the series
Vaughan describes ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ as a story of “abuse of power, consent and rape, not forgetting privilege”. It is also a story of, above all, women, something that led the producers Bruna Papandrea (‘Big little lies’) and Liza Chasin (‘Mary, Queen of Scots’) to fight fiercely for adaptation. “It ended up being a series of women. S J Clarkson [‘Succession’] she had read the book and volunteered as director. David [E. Kelley] has a lot of experience, but [la codesarrolladora] Melissa James Gibsonwho had worked on ‘House of cards,’ helped a lot with the political part.”
The author herself serves as an executive producer and had the opportunity to “provide notes on possible variations in many aspects. They had the final decision on everything, but I felt that I was heard and that my comments were taken into account.” Perhaps partly due to this positive experience, the same producers have acquired the rights to ‘Reputation’, Vaughan’s recently published fifth book, to prepare a new series.
On the other hand, the production company Roughcut TV (‘Stath lets flats’) is preparing a series from the fourth, ‘Little disasters’, a reflection on motherhood and postnatal anxiety through the prism of the psychological ‘thriller’; ‘mum noir’ not so far from ‘In the garden of the ogre’ by Leila Slimani or ‘Instinct’ Ashley Audraine. With ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’, Vaughan’s television reign has just begun.