Actor plays Duchess of Argyll, subject of infamous 1963 divorce case, in upcoming BBC drama

‘It’s the grimmest thing you can do.’ Claire Foy as the Duchess of Argyll in A Very British Scandal, which airs on BBC One on Boxing Day.
Photograph: Chris Raphael/BBC/Blueprint Pictures

Filming sex scenes has left the actor Claire Foy feeling exposed and exploited, she has said, ahead of the airing of the latest adaptation of A Very British Scandal, in which she stars as a duchess whose private life became the object of salacious gossip during her divorce proceedings.

Foy plays the Duchess of Argyll, who was famed for her charisma, beauty and style and who suffered the publication of explicit photographs after her husband sought a divorce on the grounds of adultery.

The 1963 hearing focused heavily on the duchess’s sex life, with her husband Ian Campbell publicly estimating the number of men with whom he believed she had had sex, as well as providing explicit pictures purporting to show her in the act.

Nearly 60 years later, Foy said she struggled with filming the sex scenes in the onscreen adaptation. She said: “It’s a really hard line because basically you do feel exploited when you are a woman and you are having to perform fake sex on screen. You can’t help but feel exploited.

“It’s grim – it’s the grimmest thing you can do. You feel exposed. Everyone can make you try to not feel that way but it’s unfortunately the reality.

“But my thing was that I felt very strongly that it had to be in it, but I wanted it to be female. I did not want it be that sort of awful climactic sexual experience you often see on the cinema screen,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

The real-life divorce proceedings brought to light accusations of forgery, theft, violence, drug-taking, secret recording and bribery. The duchess was criticised by the judge, who denounced her in his judgment as a “highly sexed woman” who was not “satisfied with normal relations and had started to indulge in disgusting sexual activities to gratify a debased sexual appetite”.

The fact that the couple had an open marriage her husband had also exploited and that he had stolen her private property and reportedly sought the divorce only when she stopped paying his bills was deemed largely irrelevant.

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Responding to the suggestion that the duchess was the first woman to be publicly “slut-shamed” by the media, Foy dismissed the term. She said: “I hate the phrase slut-shaming, I absolutely hate it. But I think that women have basically been slut-shamed forever. I think Eve was probably slut-shamed.”

She added: “There is something about it that I just hate, the rephrasing of the ownership of that title, and it being used in a way that justifies it even more. Just the word ‘slut’, I think, probably shouldn’t exist.”

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