BBC's Christine Keeler drama gives Valerie Profumo a voice
In the scandal of the Profumo affair, the role of John Profumo’s wife has become little more than a footnote.
But a BBC re-telling of the story through the “female gaze” will give Valerie Hobson a significant role, showing how she supported her husband during his darkest days.
The Trial of Christine Keeler is written, directed and produced by a female team and has been described by its cast as an adaptation for the MeToo era.
It will put the stories of Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies and Hobson at the forefront, giving them their “own” voice decades after the affair caused a sensation and contributed to the downfall of Harold Macmillan’s government.
Emilia Fox has been cast as Hobson, a successful actress who was for the early part of their marriage more famous than her husband, appearing in Kind Hearts and Coronets and starring in a West End production of The King and I. She stuck by her husband devotedly after he confessed to an affair with Keeler.
The character appears in every episode of the six-part drama. “It is a significant role,” a programme source said. “You really see the measure of the woman.
“She was not stupid - she knew that he had affairs. But she stayed with him to the end.”
In keeping with the female-centric tone of the drama, Valerie will be portrayed as feeling an “affinity” for Keeler. “She saw that she was a young girl. And she felt that Keeler was vilified in the press,” the source said.
An early episode will include the moment that Profumo, then Secretary of State for War, first clapped eyes on Keeler as she emerged naked from a swimming pool at Cliveden. Hobson was also in attendance, and is said to have called for Keeler to be given a towel.
Profumo and Keeler went on to have an affair, while she simultaneously conducted a relationship with a Soviet agent, Yevgeny Ivanov. Profumo initially denied any impropriety, but later resigned in disgrace.
Keeler is played on screen by actress Sophie Cookson, who said the drama will present “a vivid, complex woman who has previously, it seems, been reduced and misunderstood. Now feels like the perfect time to reconsider her life, and redress the balance.”
The drama co-stars Ben Miles as John Profumo and James Norton as Stephen Ward, the osteopath who was one of the central figures in the scandal.
Speaking earlier this year in Cannes, Norton said: “It’s imperative that we go back and look at these moments in history in light of the recalibration with the Times Up and MeToo movements.”
The Trial of Christine Keeler is part of a BBC One Christmas schedule that also includes new adaptations of Dracula and A Christmas Carol, a festive Gavin and Stacey special, and a cast reunion for Miranda.
It will take up a slot in the schedule previously earmarked for a new Agatha Christie remake, The Pale Horse, which will instead be shown in January.
The Profumos’ son, David, wrote a family memoir in 2006 which included some of Hobson’s letters to her husband. In 1969, she wrote: “My own dear Beloved - For these wonderful years of gaiety, fun, romance, luxury and laughter I thank you! Never once since I met you have I been bored; never once have I not wanted you.”
When the film, Scandal, was released in 1989, with Sir Ian McKellen as Profumo and Deborah Grant in the minor role of Hobson, they were horrified. “I never felt sorrier for them in my life,” David said. Hobson died in 1998, and Profumo in 2006.