The TV Previews of Alison Rowat: Anatomy of a Scandal; Botticelli, Florence and the Medici; Brian Cox interview

SEX, scandal, deputy. When these words appeared in Sunday newspaper headlines recently, it sounded like a portal to another time. Back to basics, era, say, or before that, Profumo. Surely the Westminster scandals had gone over to the likes of Partygate?

No doubt a playwright will make it to Downing Street appointments in time. For now, however, television continues to take the old-school approach to impropriety, as seen in Anatomy of a Scandal (Netflix, April 15).

From Sarah Vaughan’s novel, Anatomy of a Scandal is the kind of brilliant, beautiful drama you’d expect from David E Kelley and Melissa James Gibson, authors of Big Little Lies and House of Cards.

At the center of events are James and Sophie Whitehouse (played by Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller). He is a government minister, she is a wife and mother who seems to have it all. They make a formidable team, then comes the titular scandal.

Anatomy of a Scandal is just the latest manifestation of television’s passion for dramas set in the world of politics. For many viewers, the affair started with House of Cards, the British version. First shown in 1990, it was the story of pathologically ambitious Tory Chief Whip Francis Urquhart, his relationship with lobby reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), and his rise to the top of Westminster’s greasy pole.

With interest aroused by the actual battle for the Conservative Party, Michael Dobbs’ creation was a fixture on television in its day, and Urquhart’s famous line – “You could say that, I couldn’t comment” – is still used today, albeit by less imaginative political types. In many ways, it was a “#Metoo drama” ahead of its time. Today, Mattie’s character could be a researcher or a publicist.

The American version was equally popular. Executive produced by David Fincher with the action moved to Washington DC, it lasted six seasons before the crown was finally handed to…but that would be telling.

For my money, the UK’s only serious house of cards rival was A Very English Scandal, which first aired in 2018. Written by Russell T Davies and directed by Stephen Frears, starring oddly brilliant Hugh Grant as from Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and Ben Whishaw as his lover, Norman Scott, it was a class act from start to finish.

Botticelli, Florence and the Medici (Sky Arts, free, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) is a beautifully rendered introduction to the Renaissance for art lovers and the simply curious. Under the skillful direction of Marco Pianigiani, the complexities are distilled to allow easy access to the essence of mid-15th century Renaissance art by focusing on an exceptional artist, a beautiful setting and a powerful family.

Narrator Stephen Mangan (Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year) begins by examining the nature of the relationship between gifted painter, Sandro Botticelli and wealthy patron, Lorenzo de Medici, a relationship best described as mutually beneficial. Botticelli’s painting The Adoration of the Magi (1476) depicts the birth of Christ in the presence not only of members of the Medici family but also of Botticelli himself. It was this painting that helped consolidate the social status of the Medici family and made Botticelli an innovative artist in Italy and then in the Western world.

The city of Florence is presented as a place at odds with itself, in perpetual motion between light and dark shades. The juxtaposition of aerial daytime shots of distinctive red brick roofs and bustling streets, and dark, eerily empty alleys sums up the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the place.

As always, there are talking heads who dispense expert knowledge and thoughtful opinions. What’s interesting here is the thread that connects many of these experts’ individual perspectives and helps keep the format fresh. Botticelli used paint to communicate, much like social media is used today. Between the 15th and 21st centuries, only the medium has changed, with terms such as influencer, selfie and photoshop as at home in a discussion of Renaissance painting as they are today.

Ask any journalist who in their contact book always gives good value for money and chances are the subject of Brian Cox’s interview (BBC Scotland, Tuesday, 10pm) will be mentioned. This time it’s Amy Irons’ chance to meet the stage and screen giant. In a half-hour interview, Cox speaks candidly about his early life in Dundee, the death of his father, his mother’s mental health and the family he found in Dundee Rep.

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