The Trial of Christine Keeler episode 6, review: Sophie Cookson has shone in this richly drawn portrait of a woman in a world of wicked men

The Trial of Christine Keeler draws to a dramatic close: BBC/Ecosse Films
The Trial of Christine Keeler draws to a dramatic close: BBC/Ecosse Films

Knowing what’s coming in the final episode of The Trial of Christine Keeler adds to its dramatic power rather than diminishing it. Stephen Ward’s (James Norton) overdose proves fatal. The court verdict, which clears him of prostitution but finds him guilty of living off the “immoral earnings” of Mandy Rice-Davies (Ellie Bamber) and Christine Keeler (Sophie Cookson), is read out to an empty chair.

The series has let events breathe throughout, and Ward’s early dispatch gives the final episode room to examine what followed. Keeler is arrested for perjury and put on trial. Her silver-tongued barrister, Jeremy Hutchinson (Paul Ritter), the inspiration for Rumpole, can’t stop her from being sentenced to nine months in prison. Her father Colin (Neil Morrissey) turns up out of the blue, promising to be there for her before promptly selling his story to the papers. Disgraced and alienated from high society, John Profumo (Ben Miles) presents himself at Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, to work as a social reformer. Their parallel falls from grace are signposted with a floor-scrubbing scene of limited subtlety.

I’ve no idea how true the history is, but it never purports to be documentary. The character acknowledges as much, towards the end, as she tries to move on with her life. “There’s the story, then there’s me, and they’re not the same, they’ve just got the same name.” It’s an assertion of the writer’s freedom. But on its own terms, over six episodes, The Trial of Christine Keeler is a richly drawn portrait of a woman in a world of men whose worst instincts are defended by the institutions they run. The government, the courts, the newspapers, the police: all close ranks, not so much out of individual malice as by a kind of imperceptible will to defend their own. As Hutchinson says: “Christine, you more than anyone must know that justice has nothing to do with the truth. It’s a game with ridiculous rules.” It’s anchored by an excellent performance from Cookson.

The script, which shows so well, only falters when it gives in to the temptation to tell. The finale’s emotional climax is an argument between Profumo and his wife, Valerie (Emilia Fox). Looking at the papers, he is relieved to notice that they appear to be “yesterday’s news at last”. She replies that it seems harsh she is facing prison. “Are we endlessly to blame women for the weakness and wickedness of men?” she asks. “You have no idea. Being a teenage girl is like being invited to a glorious picnic, and then you realise you’re one of the sandwiches.” As if realising mid-sentence how pathetic his initial counterargument is, that evil temptress women actually hold all the power, Profumo concludes by referring to his time in the military.

“There are things I saw in the war, terrible things,” he says. “I haven’t spoken about them with anyone, and I doubt I ever will. But what I saw in Italy those men, those young men, while you were worrying about your close-up, having doors held open for you. I am a man... I only did what all my friends were doing, I just happened to get caught.” Prince Andrew, eat your heart out. Or perhaps your pituitary gland.