Type keyword(s) to search


Feud: Capote vs. The Swans Isn't the Only Show to Revel in Upper-Class Gossip

A Very English Scandal and A Very British Scandal both offer plenty of low behavior from members of high society.
  • Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal; Paul Bettany and Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal (Photos: Prime Video/Everett Collection)
    Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal; Paul Bettany and Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal (Photos: Prime Video/Everett Collection)

    The thing about gossip is once you hear a little, you always want more. The new season of Ryan Murphy's Feud anthology, titled Capote vs. The Swans is all about the lethal consequences of gossip among the well-heeled New York socialites of the 1960s. It's a dishy mix of Hollywood history and literary lore, and like all Ryan Murphy productions, it's impeccably cast. But with only one episode available per week (after this week’s two-part premiere), it leaves you with an appetite for more. If you've already watched the first Feud season, there's another anthology dealing in true-life stories of treachery and gossip among the decadently privileged that you can dive right into: A Very English (and British) Scandal.

    Besides the participation of London-based Blueprint Pictures, there's actually not much that ties A Very English Scandal and A Very British Scandal. The two Prime Video series tell different stories, feature different casts, and were made by different writers and directors. But they share the same revolted fascination with the U.K.'s upper class via two very different true stories of 20th-century scandal. A Very English Scandal (which aired first on the BBC and then arrived on Prime Video back in 2018) centers on the Thorpe Affair, a notorious 1970s political scandal that ended the career of Labour Party leader Jeremy Thorpe. Hugh Grant played Thorpe, while Ben Whishaw gave an Emmy-winning performance as Norman Scott, Thorpe's former lover whom Thorpe had tried to have murdered.

    Stylistically, there's a world of difference between Capote vs. The Swans and A Very English Scandal. The former is the work of not only Murphy as a producer but writer Jon Robin Baitz and (at least through the first four episodes) director Gus Van Sant. There is a gauzy sumptuousness to their depiction of the ladies' lunches and powder-room breakdowns among Truman's inner circle, like we're watching the show through an afternoon gin haze.

    A Very English Scandal, on the other hand, is more sly and funny. Writer Russell T. Davies was not merely reveling in the bad behavior of the Thorpe Affair and the escalating (and absurd) attempts to cover it up. He's also making a wry commentary on the rubberneckers in government and British media who made a gay affair into something so career-wrecking that one might kill to cover it up. Together with director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons; The Queen), Davies makes great use of Grant and Whishaw, who both know exactly when and how to inject some humor into a scene.

    For as much as the queer protagonists might make A Very English Scandal seem like ideal post-Feud viewing, it's actually the follow-up series, A Very British Scandal, that slots in most perfectly. This series is based on another true story: the infamous 1963 divorce trial between the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Paul Bettany stars as the charming (at first) Ian Campbell, Duke of Argyll but in no way noble, who falls in love with Margaret (Claire Foy), a socialite who doesn't seem concerned that Ian is still married to his second wife. Margaret's unvarnished opportunism and Ian's caddish ways seem at first like a match (if not a particularly pretty one), but when Ian declares publicly that his eldest son (by his second wife) will inherit his fortune, Margaret starts planting rumors that Ian's boys are not his.

    There’s a real nastiness at the core of British Scandal, and credit goes to screenwriter Sarah Phelps and director Anne Sewitsky as they trade in some of that Davies-style comedy for a more acidic approach. Margaret is unapologetic in a way that at first seems admirable (she refuses to feel shamed by a jealous friend for sleeping around and forthrightly enjoying sex) but soon curdles into shameless scheming. Foy has a great time with Margaret's many confrontations with Ian's exes and loved ones, all of whom seem to loathe her. You get the sense Ryan Murphy would have a ball with this side of the Crown alum’s onscreen persona.

    British Scandal shares in Feud's fascination with the way rumor becomes first currency and then threat. In the first episode of Capote vs. the Swans, we see how the rumors Truman spread about Ann Woodward (Demi Moore) killing her husband help ingratiate him to the table at the Paley's dinner party, and later how the percolation of that rumor drives Woodward to the brink. In Scandal, Margaret Campbell engineers gossip as a way to get her husband's money, and she ends up reaping the nasty consequences of her actions.

    All three series revel in both the creators' and audiences' appetite to watch rich and powerful people glide through their privileged worlds until it all comes crashing down. And they're all true stories, which appeals to our own inner gossip mavens. A Very English/British Scandal feeds that beast inside us with sharp writing and some incredible performances, enough to keep that Feud high just a bit longer.

    New episodes of Feud: Capote vs. The Swans air Wednesdays at 10:00 PM ET on FX, streaming the next day on Hulu. A Very English Scandal and A Very British Scandal are available to stream on Prime Video.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, A Very British Scandal, A Very English Scandal, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, Hugh Grant, Paul Bettany, Russell T Davies, Ryan Murphy, Stephen Frears