Is Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story? The reality of the Netflix show

Anatomy of a Scandal is Netflix’s new political thriller and it begins with Rupert Friend’s minister James Whitehouse embroiled in a salacious affair with one of his co-workers. However, the dark mini-series’ story abruptly shifts as the politician is accused of sexual misconduct.

Across six episodes, the truth is slowly unraveled by his wife Sophie (Sienna Miller) who is torn between staying by her husband’s side and believing his accuser. Michelle Dockery also appears in the star-studded drama created by Big Little Lies showrunner David E. Kelley.

All six episodes of the show are now available to stream but given scandal and corruption never seem to be far from the halls of Westminster, some may be wondering if the show is based on true events. 

Is Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story?

 While it may seem reminiscent of some British tabloid headlines, the basic story of Anatomy of a Scandal is fictional. The show is adapted from Sarah Vaughan’s bestselling novel of the same name. Published in 2018, it follows an affair in the halls of power that becomes the catalyst for uncovering a bigger miscarriage of justice. 

However, despite being a work of fiction, Vaughan has shared how she was very inspired by her years reporting on stories like the one told in Anatomy of a Scandal. The author worked as a court reporter and a political journalist for several years before writing her novel, covering several notorious cases and political scandals.

Opening up about this in a piece for British bookseller Waterstones (opens in new tab), she said covering various high-profile criminal cases – including the inquest into the murder of Stephen Lawrence as well as the suicide of former weapons inspector Stephen Kelly – informed her view on the criminal system.

Vaughan also explained that the main drive for the novel came from covering Westminster as a political correspondent for several years. She said: “While courtrooms and murder investigations helped me to write a thriller, it was through becoming a political correspondent that I became even more conscious of power, privilege, and entitlement – all issues at the heart of Anatomy of a Scandal… I also saw how sex scandals involving politicians broke and played out.”

Sienna Miller in Netflix's Anatomy of a Scandal

(Image credit: Netflix)

There have been numerous cases that sadly ring eerily true to the story of Anatomy of a Scandal. And it seems that verisimilitude was a key part of adapting this story to the screen, especially when it came to conveying the inner workings of the criminal justice system. In a piece for Harper’s Bazaar (opens in new tab), the cast shared how they worked closely with an experienced criminal barrister to make sure the intricacies of the legal system came across.

For Vaughan, there’s also something inherently truthful that lies at the heart of Anatomy of a Scandal: mistrust in government. She told the publication how she feels this is something that is very much still present in the UK political system. She added: “It’s really nice of Boris Johnson and the government to be doing so much publicity for us. Barnard Castle, partygate, that assumption that the current administration can just break the rules so relentlessly… It’s slightly weird how neatly it all fits with the show.”

Anatomy of a Scandal is available to watch in full on Netflix. While you’re at it, why not check out our list of the best Netflix shows to watch right now.

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